Posts tagged Kevin Carson

Re: Urban Farming


This, for example, is bullshit…

Maybe, but I can’t see that you’ve earned this assertion by means of argument, at least not as presented here.

(1) People like yards.

Sure. And people also dislike their jobs, and like cheap fresh produce.

People also typically like gardening work more than their jobs up to some point of labor-intensiveness, after which they start liking gardening work a lot less.

Given all this, the question is one of trade-offs among alternative uses for land and labor — whether people’s desire for (say) maintaining a grassy yard as a consumption good is strong enough, on the margin, to outweigh the countervailing benefits of small-scale biointensive vegetable gardening on the same land and with the same labor-time.

No doubt this will in fact be different for different people: some people really like yards; other people really hate their jobs; etc. But of course Kevin is not suggesting that, given the choice, all workers will prefer to transform some marginal units of lawn into marginal units of a kitchen garden as a means of reducing work hours. Nor is he even claiming, in the passage quoted, that any workers will withdraw entirely from the wage system in favor of gardening. What he does suggest is that, given the choice, some (significant number of) workers will prefer to trade out some (significant amount of) marginal wage-work, yardwork and yard-land in favor of marginal increases in garden-work and garden land. Of course, it’s easy to throw around isolated bits of data about what people “like” and don’t “like” in the abstract without considerations about opportunity costs, substitute goods, or division of the stock into marginal units, but given that Kevin’s point was about people’s preferences over alternatives on the margin, I can’t see how that gets any serious economic work done by this kind of response.

You might then ask, “Well, why don’t they already do what Kevin suggests? Seems like people’s revealed preferences tell us all we need to know about the trade-offs involved.” Which would be true — (1) if decisions were being made under conditions of adequate information (so that there is no need for, say, “mutualist propaganda” to offer information to people currently dependent on wages for their food about available alternatives which they may not have known about), and (2) if those preferences were revealed in a free market, where (among other things) substitute goods aren’t subsidized by the government, the wage-system isn’t made artificially difficult to escape by government-imposed needs for ready cash on hand, research and dissemination of information aren’t artificially skewed towards the needs and interests of competing business models, necessary inputs (notably, a patch of land, space to compost, etc.) aren’t made artificially expensive by government price-fixing and government-imposed restrictions on use; etc.

But they aren’t.

(2) The claim that it’s cheaper for families to grow their own than to buy from a store amounts to a denial that there are gains from specialization plus a denial of economies of scale (a Carson specialty), …

Well, no, what it amounts to is a specific application of a denial that gains from specialization and economies of scale are (1) unlimited (2) homogeneous across all goods and all producers.

Whether the application is apt or not is something that depends on more data than you can get from a one-paragraph pull quote (and is something that Carson discusses at length throughout his work on questions relating to, e.g., cottage industry and home food production). But the principle being applied is that there’s an equilibrium point at which marginal gains from specialization are outweighed by marginal costs (transaction costs, heterogeneous preferences for marginal labor-time, etc.), and an equilibrium point at which marginal gains from economies of scale are outweighed by marginal costs of scale, and that this equilibrium point may be different for, say, low-wage service sector workers than it is for highly-paid professionals, and may also be different for tomatoes or chili peppers than it is for pickup trucks or jumbo jets. Remembering which is not “totally incompetent,” but rather a prerequisite for actually doing any kind of serious economics in the real world.

I’m pro-gardening, but I’m smart enough to know that my investment doesn’t begin to cover my opportunity cost.

Maybe the kind of gardening that you do, and the alternative uses of your time that you have in mind, are different from the kind of gardening that Kevin has done, and the alternative uses of his time that he has in mind.

Or maybe that’s a bad example because cars would not exist in freed markets because we’d travel attached to inexpensive homemade kites which the corporatist conspiracy has brainwashed us into believing are impossible!

Is this kind of rhetorical broadside at ridiculous cartoon versions of your interlocutor supposed to be funny?

Because it sure isn’t necessary to make the point you’re trying to make, and it’s also neither particularly fair nor particularly reliable as a way to get out a relevant response to the argument your interlocutor actually made,rather than other, different arguments that he didn’t make, but which you find easier to lampoon.

Re: An Open Letter to Keith Preston


I don’t think the issue here is Keith’s “tone.” I think the issue is the substance of his position.

Calling for vocal gay liberationists, feminists, and anti-racists, to be run out of the movement, apparently in order to boost recruiting among those who are put off by that kind of thing, is not just a matter of tone. Do you see nothing wrong with the substance of the position? Do you think that there is a right way to call for such a quote-unquote purge of people who care about these things from the movement?

Similarly, I wonder what you think about the several paragraphs Keith spends attacking “the most extreme forms of pro-immigrationism,” by which he apparently means the plumb-line libertarian position against government border checkpoints, papers-please police state monitoring, and government prohibitions on hiring immigrant workers [?!]. When Keith claims that the anarchistic position is to enforce border checkpoints and police-state monitoring of national citizenship papers, the use of government immigration enforcement to exile from the country those that the American government declares “criminals [or] enemies of America” (?!) and suggests government prohibitions against employing undocumented immigrants, and apparently also government prohibitions against employing any immigrants at all during a strike (?!) — when, in short, he calls, over and over again for the expansion of the state and an increase in the power of government border police, in the name of nationalist politics, and attempts to justify this Stasi-statism by pointing to the majority opinion among those approved to vote in government elections by the United States government (?!) — what do you think of that? Do you really think of that as just a problem of “tone”? Or is a problem with the substance of his position?

Re: Considering Redistribution of Property

“I have no idea whether this is enough to appease the communists, the mutualists, the uber-left libertarians. I hope it would be, primarily because I’m simply not sold on the idea that individuals shouldn’t have the right to own and acquire productive assets, at least not on any moral grounds.”

Well, sure, but which anarchists are trying to sell that idea? Maybe some of the commies (although, remember, most anarcho-communists do believe in, or at least nod at a principle which declares, the right of individuals to withdraw from communist arrangements if they desire; the idea is usually that they imagine communist arrangements would be so obviously superior that nobody but a few lone weirdos would want to, and that even if those lone weirdos somehow amassed enough resources to build a factory under private proprietorship, that nobody would want to toil in it). But in any case, I certainly don’t know of any mutualists or “uber-left libertarians” who think that individual people shouldn’t have the right to own and acquire productive assets. If you do, I’d like to hear some names and quotations.

Of course, there is a separate question, as to what forms of organization and what levels of centralization of control over machinery and technology, would be most likely to flourish within a market freed from government privileges and increasingly distant from the shadow of past government subsidies. That question is interesting and important, but separate from the moral question of what individual people ought to have the right to do or not to do. For what it’s worth, though, I think it would be absolutely wrong to claim that, on the predictive (as opposed to the normative) question, mutualists ad “uber-left libertarians” somehow imagine that there wouldn’t be any individual ownership of capital in a freed market. Actually, the position is generally that individual ownership of capital would become much more widespread than it currently is, because forms of collective ownership that currently dominate the market (e.g. large centralized corporations) would be undermined by the collapse of state privilege. To take an example, as I understand it, Carson’s view (for example) is that vastly more productive assets would be owned individually in a free society than are today, because he envisions that, absent government intervention in favor of large centralized operations, a much larger portion of production would be carried out within households and small family shops.

Re: Censorship Express


I see.

Since you haven’t identified a specific comment of mine to justify your gloss of my views on land ownership, there’s only so much I can say by way of a specific response. However, as a general thing, it seems likely to me that you’ve made two serious mistakes. First, you are mistaken if you think that my views about land ownership are identical to Kevin Carson’s. They’re not; while I respect Kevin and have agreed with him about the right (just, rights-respecting) outcome in specific disputes over land ownership, I came to those conclusions for different reasons from Kevin’s. Kevin believes in a strict occupancy-and-use for persistent ownership of land, as endorsed by Benjamin Tucker; I do not. (My view is a version of what Kevin Carson would call a “sticky” view on property claims to land.)

But, second, you are also grossly misinterpreting Kevin’s views if you think that his views amount to an “argument against a property right in improved land.” Kevin explicitly argues that each of us has an individual right to improved land, in virtue either of homesteading or consensual transfer from a previous owner. In fact he has repeatedly argued that the denial of that right by the State is the root cause of many social and economic evils. His occupancy-and-use criteria have nothing at all to do with a denial of “a property right in improved land”; it has to do with a specific theory about what constitutes abandonment of land that one used to own. That is no more a denial of a property right in improved land than it is a denial of a property right in quarters if I argue that I have a right to keep a quarter I found dropped on the street. You may of course disagree with Kevin about whether the criteria he suggests for constructive abandonment of land are good criteria. (I, for one, do disagree with him.) But it is a complete distortion of his views to claim that he is somehow simply denying property rights to improved land.

As for my own views, everything that I have ever written about rights to land (see, for example, 1, 2, 3) is based on the principle that legitimate homesteaders earn an individual property right to the improved land they homestead, which cannot be nullified by the arbitrary dictates of feudal, mercantile, colonial, or other equally arbitrary state-imposed allocation of land titles. You may very well disagree with me that the homesteaders I defend are legitimate homesteaders; you may think the land that I would argue to be abandoned, unowned, or otherwise available for homesteading is not really so. Fine; but, again, to claim that I am simply denying a property right to improved land — when in fact my whole position is based upon a property right to improved land — is to grossly distort my views.

I’ll be glad to discuss in greater detail the particular points of any particular argument if you produce some particular argument to discuss.

As for the second claim, that I (repeatedly) “appeal to a supposed lack of any possibility of objective criteria for rights,” you cite p. 161 of my essay in Anarchism/Minarchism, and my endorsement of Roy Childs’s “Open Letter to Ayn Rand,” as support. For those who do not have the book, the passage in question is now available for your inspection at Fair Use Blog. In it I argue (echoing Childs) that Ayn Rand’s theory of limited government is inconsistent, because any monopoly government must either forcibly suppress competing defense agencies that have not initiated force (thus violating the “limits” to which Ayn Rand claimed legitimate governments must be subject), or else must be willing to coexist on equal terms with non-force-initiating defense agencies (thus ceasing to be a monopoly, and ceasing to be a “government” in any sense objectionable to individualist anarchists). I would like for you, Adam, if you can, to find and point out a single claim or argument in that passage which at any point “appeals to a supposed lack of any possibility of objective criteria for rights,” either as a conclusion or as part of the argument to some further conclusion. Where do I make this appeal you claim that I make?

I submit you won’t be able to find one, because I don’t believe any such thing. (Neither did Roy Childs.) In fact, the passage you cite implicitly depends on a claim that the content of individual rights (thus what counts as an “initiation of force”) must be objective and discoverable by means of human reason, independently of government dictates; in fact, as you’ll notice on pp. 165-166 of the same book, my argument takes that implicit claim and makes it explicit, in the service of an argument against government monopoly on legislative authority: “But what must be appreciated here is that the obligation to follow those laws [that command justice or forbid injustice], and the right to enforce them, derives entirely from the content of those laws and not from their source. The government is justified in enforcing those laws only because anybody would be justified in enforcing justice, whether or not self-styled legislators have signed off on a document stating ‘Murder is a crime most foul.’ The document itself is idle; it neither obliges nor authorises anyone to do anything they were not already obliged or free to do. The government is not so much making new laws that impose obligations, but (at best!) making declarations that recognise preexisting obligations–which could be objectively specified by anyone, with or without official approval from anyone. Any right to override another’s assessment would derive from objective and impersonal considerations of justice, demonstrated through argument or attested on the basis of expertise, not from political prerogatives invested in the so-called legislature.” And, in p. 165 n. 24, you will find a note indicating a portion of Childs’s essay in which Childs explicitly makes more or less the same move (cf. his replies to quotes 2, 3 and 4 from Rand’s “The Nature of Government”).

Of course, nothing I’ve said here has yet established that I am right, or that Roy Childs is right, about individualist anarchism. Or that, whoever may be right, it would be worth your time and energy to try to work on projects with anarchists who believe in what we believe in.

Speaking frankly, I’m not very interested in hashing out the former argument yet again in the space of a comments thread. And I’m just as dubious as you are about the fruitfulness of collaborative projects between anarchists and minimal-statists, although possibly for reasons that are different from yours.

But, be all that as it may, while I’m not much concerned whether or not you agree with me, I do care about being misrepresented. To take arguments like the one you mention, and then insist that the arguer is denying the possibility of objective criteria for rights — when the whole argument is based on the principle that there are objective criteria for rights — is the worst sort of up-is-down, black-is-white distortion of your interlocutor’s views.

Re: Four Quick Answers

Roads and other infrastructure should be provided by voluntary means, with some combo of user fees/advertising, etc. paying for them–and they would be in a free market, just as innovation would still get done without the monopoly formerly known as intellectual property paying off politically-connected rent seekers. Roads would also be better maintained in a free market, so the transportation costs incurred by Wal-Mart would fall in a free market.

Re: Socioeconomic Creationism

For example, if some have much more wealth than others, the socioeconomic creationist believes that this is the product of government policies specifically designed to transfer wealth from the many to the few, rather than the natural result of market transactions between people of disparate abilities and preferences.

Well. Isn’t it empirically true that there are specific government policies which, either through design or through unintended consequences, tend to profit the rich, hinder and impoverish the poor, or do both at the same time? If you doubt it, I can name some examples.

Can you think of any actual examples of people who fall back on the claim that poverty is substantially caused by government policies, rather than by voluntary market forces, who do so because they’re simply unable to understand how spontaneous orders work? Every proponent of such a claim that I can think of (Kevin Carson, Roderick Long, Brad Spangler, Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, Gabriel Kolko…) is relatively clear on the notion of spontaneous order; they get to the conclusion that government policies cause poverty not by explanatory default, but rather because they can point to a bunch of concrete examples of government policies that really do this.

In my experience, most of the real “socioeconomic creationists” with regard to wealth, tend to attribute poverty to tightly coordinated conspiracies (“international bankers” and the like), or else to the personal greed and vices of individual business people, not to structural factors like government policy.

If the average man makes more than the average woman, the socioeconomic creationist concludes that this must be due to the misogynistic oppression of women, rather than the natural outcome of men and women having different preferences, opportunity costs, and/or abilities.

You seem to be presupposing that “misogynistic oppression of women” and “spontaneous order” are two mutually exclusive explanations of the situation. But why make that claim? There’s nothing in the concept of a spontaneous order that requires that all spontaneous orders be benign. It may be that if certain kinds of ignorance, folly, or vice are widely distributed throughout the population, then lots of little individual acts of stupidity or evil will, without the design of the participants, add up to a large-scale, malign spontaneous order that goes beyond the intentions of the participants.

“Preferences, opportunity costs, and/or abilities” aren’t the only factors that can contribute to the individual decisions from which a spontaneous order emerges. And not all “preferences, opportunity costs, and/or abilities” are independent of prevalent prejudices and traditions, either.

Re: Reader Mail #50

I read through Kevin’s post on the Fed, and I don’t think he is claiming that inflation is caused by wage increases (or other price increases).

His point is that the Fed has made decisions about monetary policy partly in order to manipulate labor markets so as to keep employment rates within a particular fixed window. When employment is “too high” in their view, they have ratcheted up interest rates with the express purpose of “solving” that “problem.”

I don’t think that depends on a false theory about the causes of inflation. It just depends on reading public policy-oriented statements by Fed board members.

Self-described libertarians

Thanks for the mention, and for the kind words. I agree about the tone of that OC Weekly article. It’s kind of baffling, because the analysis is actually so much better than the analysis in most abusive-cop pieces, but the tone comes off as if it were written by a fugitive from a direct-to-video American Pie script.

As for self-described libertarians, what I’ve found is that they (we) are a pretty diverse lot. A lot are tools or creeps, and especially those “small government” types whose views are conventional enough to fit into the outer fringes of mainstream political discourse. But, while I don’t want much to do with those folks, radical libertarians tend to be a very different sort, and those that I get along with and try to learn from (e.g. Roderick Long, Kevin Carson, Jennifer McKitrick, Carol Moore, Anthony Gregory, Sheldon Richman, Brad Spangler ….) are generally maneuvering to out-Lef the establishment Left, in terms of exposing the class dynamics of the State and making a case for radically decentralist, grassroots approaches that achieve Leftist and feminist goals by ordinary people getting together amongst themselves, and bypassing or confronting the State, rather than collaborating with it or trying to seize control of it. Maybe that approach is the right approach, and maybe it’s the wrong approach; but in any case it’s a very different approach from the one that you’d be likely to see from the “small-government conservative” types, or at your local Libertarian Party, or in your average MeetUp for Chairman Ron’s Great Libertarian Electoral Revolution. And it’s an approach that more libertarians seem to be adopting lately; a tendency which I hope I might be able to encourage, in whatever small ways I can manage.

Anyway, that’s how I see it now. Does that help clarify, or does it muddy?

Re: On Dissolving the State, and What to Replace It With

Kevin: I think the net effect in this case, as in many hypothetical scenarios of dismantling the state in the wrong order, would be–as counterintuitive as it may seem–to increase the net level of exploitation carried out with the help of the state.

Well, I’m not sure that that’s especially counterintuitive. I’m perfectly willing to grant that there are plenty of cases where it’s true. What I’m trying to stress is that, as far as I can tell, we don’t disagree very much about the net consequences of different sequences of repeal. I agree that in the hypothetical case I gave, there might very well be a net increase in the predominance of class exploitation in the markets for labor, land, etc.

But, while I agree with you on that, I also think you have to keep in mind that when you make political choices you’re not just making choices about which God’s-eye-view net outcome you would prefer. You’re acting within the world, as one mortal creature among many fellow creatures, and when you deliberate about what to do you have to deliberate about what sort of person you, personally, are going to be, and what you, personally, are or aren’t willing to do to another human being. I know that I, personally, couldn’t live with deliberately choosing to shove around or rob another human being, or letting another human being go on being shoved around or robbed, for even a second longer, if all I needed to do to stop the latter would be to push a button, no matter how much I might prefer the results that I might be able to get from it. Because I’m not a thief or a bully, and I don’t want to let myself become an accomplice of thieves or bullies, either, even if it would otherwise improve my quality of life. Hence why I’d push the button, immediately and without reservation, even though I do in fact think that the net consequences of doing so would be substantially worse, in terms of things that I care about and which affect me personally, than the net consequences of repeal in the opposite order.

So I’m anti-gradualism not because I’m anti-dialectics, but rather because I think that there are personal obligations of justice involved in the political choices you make, and that dialectically-grounded praxis has to integrate those personal obligations into your course of action just as much as it has to integrate the general, big-picture view of class dynamics, socio-political structure, et cetera. In fact, if a process of deliberation abstracts away from the ground-level personal obligations of justice, fair treatment, etc. that we all have to each other, and only reckons what to do based on some very high-level structural-functional considerations about society as a whole and global-level net consequences, then I’d say that process of deliberation has become dangerously one-sided and acontextual. A praxis that doesn’t take into account what I could or couldn’t live with as a conscientious human being is an anti-dialectical and indeed an inhuman praxis.

But I fear that I’m beginning to throw a lot of jargon at the problem. Does that clarify or muddify?

Kevin: I’d probably even quibble as to whether it amounted to a reduction in statism even as such, since a high marginal tax rate on Bill Gates arguably amounts to the state ameliorating or moderating its primary act of statism in guaranteeing the income to Gates in the first place through IP.

Sure; this is a legitimate concern, to the degree that the exploitation in question is based not only on profiteering from the ripple effects of other, directly coercive acts, but where the exploitation is itself directly coercive (as is the case in government-enforced monopolies and captive markets). I would agree that there is some non-zero proportion of Bill Gates’s annual income, for example, which he actually has no legitimate property right to at all, and so no moral right to complain about taxation, any more than a slave-ship captain has a moral right to complain about a pirate making off with “his” gold, rum, and slaves. In such cases, my basic attitude is Tucker’s good old “No pity, no praise.”

But there are a couple problems in trying to translate this into any conclusion about income tax policy. Income tax policy has no way of distinguishing the legitimate portion of Bill Gates’s income (which I presume is also non-zero) from the extorted portion of it. In fact, in most cases, I think it would be impossible even in principle to calculate what the right proportions would be; in the absence of an actual free market process, there’s just no way to know how much of an intellectual monopolist’s income is legitimate and how much of it is an extorted monopoly rent.

And, beyond that, the tax also imposed alike on everyone in that income tax bracket, whether or not their income derives from direct violations of individual rights in the way that copyright and patent monopolists’ income does. Many if not most of the top 10% derive a lot of their income from direct coercion, but many of them do not (rather, they get fatter-than-free-market profits by profiteering of the ripple effects of other people’s coercion; but, while that’s also ethically objectionable, it’s a very different case from the standpoint of whether those profits can justly be expropriated). And if there’s even one single person who is robbed of even one cent of legitimately earned wealth by the general tax policy — and I think it’s next to impossible that nobody would be unjustly victimized by the tax — then, again, I think that’s reason enough to push the button. I couldn’t leave that one guy to go on getting robbed, even though all the rest of the people affected by the tax be a gang of pirates, swindlers, and extortionists. There are cases where expropriating the expropriators is legitimate and just; but government taxation is far too blunt a weapon to ever achieve it without inflicting a lot of collateral damage on innocent people.

Re: On Dissolving the State, and What to Replace It With


Thanks for the reply. Here’s mine, on the minimum wage: GT 2008-03-06: On crutches and crowbars.

On dual strategies and the medallion cartel, I agree with you that there are some potential payoffs for the legal reform approach, including some payoffs that might accrue to making the counter-economic approach easier to pursue. But it does seem to me that there are already a lot of smaller-government reform types (IJ, etc.) who are already working that angle. As I see it, it’s usually better for anarchists to specialize in what we really want, and the most direct routes to it, particularly when (as I think is the case here) there’s lots of self-consciously libertarian effort already being put into the less radical solution, while relatively little self-consciously libertarian effort is going into the more radical solution, even though the more radical solution seems to be producing more in the way of concrete results. I figure that it may be a good idea not only to mention, but really to emphasize the ultra-radical position, which doesn’t have a lot of advocates right now, and let the reformists, which there are already more than enough of, do their thing in our wake.