Review by Sean Gabb of Kevin Carson’s “Organization Theory”

Free Life Commentary

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 184
18th June 2009
Linking url:
Book Review by Sean Gabb

Organization Theory
Kevin A. Carson
Booksurge, 2009, 642pp, $39.99
(ISBN 9781439221990)
Available from Amazon


I will begin my review by stating its main conclusions. These are that Kevin Carson has written one of the most significant books the libertarian movement has seen in many years. I do not agree with everything he says here. I do not suppose any libertarian will unreservedly accept what is said. Even so, I doubt if there is a libertarian who can read this book and not, in some degree, have his vision of a free society enriched and even transformed by it.

Summarising an argument that is worked out over more than six hundred pages is not easy. However, Mr Carson begins by observing that, while economic theory seeks to analyse the behaviour of individuals and small groups within a market system, the economic reality is a world dominated by large corporations within which prices are largely administered and there is an absence of competition.

He asks why this should be so. Why is there so much substitution of hierarchy for individual contracts? The standard answer, provided by Ronald Coase, among others, is that large firms are more efficient than small firms. The further the division of labour is carried, the larger the potential economies of scale. In an open market, however, the division of labour involves transaction costs – these being the costs of negotiating exchanges between many different suppliers of goods and services. Within a firm, these costs are not abolished, but are much reduced. Therefore, a firm will expand to the point where the cost of organising one more transaction within itself is equal to the cost of letting that transaction be made on the open market.

According to this analysis, firms grow large so far as their lower internal transaction costs make them more efficient than their smaller competitors. And there is an obvious temptation to regard size in a market economy as evidence of greater efficiency.

Against this analysis and its conclusions, Mr Carson argues that the point at which internal transaction costs become equal to the costs of transactions via the market has been artificially raised by state intervention. There are few objective benefits in size. Lowest long run average cost is often achieved by rather small scale production methods. There is little evidence that large factories are more efficient than small factories. There is little evidence that large firms are more innovative than small firms. Anyone who looks inside a large firm will see information and management and resource allocation problems similar to those described by Hayek and von Mises in their work on socialist calculation.

For two hundred years, economists have been content to repeat and elaborate on the example of the pin factory described by Adam Smith – in which the operations of making a pin are divided among many workers, thereby raising average output. In fact, these efficiencies can be realised just as easily by dividing the operations so that individual workers perform them one after the other.

If large firms predominate, it is not because they are the outcome of free market forces. Rather, they are called into being by systematic distortions of the market that amount to a subsidy on size. These distortions include the following:

First, there is subsidised transport and communication infrastructure. According to Mr Carson,

[i]t’s… important to remember that whatever reductions in unit production cost results from internal economies of large-scale production is to some extent offset by the dis-economies of large-scale distribution.[p.34]

The British and American railway networks, for example, were built in the nineteenth century by private companies. However, investment was only made profitable by

compulsory purchase laws, or actual grants of land. Without this help, the returns on investment – never very exciting in any event – would in at least most cases have been negative. Once built, though, the railways in both countries enabled the growth of national wholesale and retail markets that could now be served by large firms. The modern road networks were mostly paid for out of taxes, or with loans services by the taxpayers. They did for the concentration of enterprise in the twentieth century what the railways had done in the nineteenth. Distribution costs have thereby been externalised on other users or on the taxpayers.

Again, there is the building of ports and blue water naval defences and the forced opening of foreign markets. Without the very costly work of the British and American navies over the past few hundred years, it would not have become so cheap and convenient to carry goods about the world – a carrying trade that also widens markets and thereby subsidises the emergence of the large firms best able to benefit. There are foreign policies that make other countries more stable markets for large firms. How the Americans organised their southern neighbours for the convenience of the United Fruit Company needs no more than a mention. There is also the hugely expensive oil-based Middle Eastern policies of the British and American Governments during the past hundred years. Even with all the taxes heaped on it, petrol may have been made far cheaper than it would have been in the absence of government intervention. Perhaps, indeed, it is the artificial cheapness of oil that has shaped the whole structure of our civilisation by crowding out smaller scale alternatives.

It may be argued that subsidising transport tends to create large positive externalities. Perhaps it does. Nevertheless, the most visible benefits – being those enjoyed by large firms – have always been smaller than the full costs. As Mr Carson says,

If production on the scale promoted by infrastructure subsidies were actually efficient enough to compensate for real distribution costs, the manufacturers would have presented enough effective demand for such long-distance shipping at actual costs to pay for it without government intervention. …[a]n apparent ‘efficiency’ that presents a positive ledger balance only by shifting and concealing real costs, is really no ‘efficiency’ at all. Costs can be shifted, but they cannot be destroyed.[p.69]

The same can be said of every communications network from national post offices to the Internet. They widen markets at far less than full cost to those who benefit from it. In particular, the satellite-based telephone and Internet revolution of the past few decades has allowed production and distribution right across the world to be organised from a single location.

Second, there are patents and copyrights. In a natural order – that is, in a society without a state – property rights in intangible items would be at least difficult to have recognised. The reason is that, while only one person can possess my notebook computer – and to take it away from me would be an obvious injustice, easily prevented or rectified – this review can be reproduced without limit. Similarly, the computer itself can be copied. In neither case is anyone deprived of his own possession. Intellectual property rights are essentially artificial property rights. They do not derive from scarcity, but from the creation of scarcity. They are essentially grants of monopoly privilege. They can only be created by the State. They can only be enforced by limiting what people can do with physical objects they have bought.

The claim that rights to intellectual property encourage the creation of intellectual property is unfounded. There is much evidence that firms would continue to develop new products in the absence of patent protection. There are many other ways of rewarding artistic creation than copyright. What does seem to be the case, however, is that patents are routinely used to hinder innovation; and the sharing of patents between large firms has the effect of shutting smaller competitors out of the market. And payments for the use of intellectual property enter very heavily into the supply cost of nearly all goods and services. This is particularly the case with pharmaceuticals, where patents serve less to encourage innovation than to increase prices to dozens of times their natural level.

Third, there is the cartelisation of costs brought about by laws prescribing minimum standards of product quality or of fair trading or of payment and treatment of workers. When, for example, cigarette manufacturers are stopped from advertising, there is the same effect on cost and profit as if the companies had agreed among themselves to stop advertising. Mr Carson says:

A regulation, in essence, is a state-enforced cartel in which the members agree to cease competition in a particular area of quality or safety, and instead agree on a uniform standard which they establish through the state. And unlike private cartels, which are unstable, no member can seek an advantage by defecting.[p.80]

Taxes have a similar effect. Value added tax, for example, is applied whenever money changes hands between businesses – above a low turnover threshold, that is. The effect of this is to raise the costs of transactions via the market, without touching those taking place within a firm.

Fourth, there are the incorporation laws. These allow a firm to be defined as an artificial person, with most of the civil rights and obligations of a natural person. One of these obligations is the same unlimited liability for debt as a sole trader has. However, while the firm has unlimited liability, the liability of its owners is limited to the extent of their investment. This privilege alone allows incorporated firms to raise large amounts of capital on the financial markets. Yet, while the shareholders theoretically own them, such firms in practice are the property of their managers, who feel none of the moral responsibility that comes with ownership.

Unless unlucky or badly run, incorporated firms can last forever, and can grow bigger and bigger and more bureaucratic in their organisation. It is no argument that incorporation might still be possible in a stateless society. It probably would not. Whatever the case, incorporation laws enable far more incorporation than would take place where every attempt required costly and time-consuming negotiation and advertising.

By these and other means, Mr Carson says, size of business organisation has been systematically encouraged by the State. Now, those who gain from such enlargement have not been passive or accidental beneficiaries. This is not a matter of “socialist” laws made by economic illiterates that have then worked to the advantage of big business. The world in which we live has been deliberately shaped over the past few hundred years or more by plutocratic elites that have wanted stable markets and docile workers and suppliers. These elites comprise the managerial and rentier classes, politicians and bureaucrats, and the various intellectuals who propagate the ideologies that justify the ruling class as a whole. The justifying ideologies shift over time. But the overall project has been one of centralising economic and political power so that wealth can be shifted upward from those who produce to those who consume.

In this state of affairs, the construction of welfare systems should not be seen as radical attacks from outside, but as an essential support of the established order. The growth of large firms as the dominant business unit has required the virtual conscription of millions of people into hierarchical structures, with the suppression – or at least the discouragement – of their individuality. Apart from regular cash payments, the reward for an almost military deference to authority has been promises of job security and paid holidays and pensions and healthcare. In America, this was made into a cartelised cost on big business. In England and most other countries, it was directly assumed by the State.

We do not live in anything approaching a market order. The state of affairs in which we live is best described as a kinder, gentler feudalism. Those at the top possess fabulous, almost risk free wealth. Nearly everyone else is attached, in extended patterns of fealty, to large organisations – big business firms, state bureaucracies, welfare services, and the like.

This being said, if our modern feudalism is nicer than the old, it is growing nastier over time. plutocratic social democracy worked so long as its inefficiencies could be covered with subsidies from the taxpayers and the exploitation of consumers, and so long as the workers were broadly content with the bribes given to keep them quiet. More recently, Mr Carson says, the crises of the system – overproduction of certain commodities, waste of natural resources, inability to maintain control outside the West, rising discontent within the West, and so forth – have begun to dwarf any means of overcoming them. The response has been a rearrangement of the sticks and carrots. Mr Carson says:

The elites who run our state capitalist economy made a strategic decision in the 1970s, to cap real wages and transfer all productivity increases into reinvestment, dividends, or CEO salaries. So while real wages have remained for thirty years, the wealth of the top few percent of the population has exploded astronomically…. To impose this policy on society, obviously required increasing authoritarianism in all aspects of social life.[p.257]

Because the system is unstable, it may collapse by itself. Or it may require an external push. Whatever the case, Mr Carson hopes for a future world in which statist privilege of all kinds will have been abolished, and in which all costs of economic activity will have been internalised. Such a world, he thinks, will be mostly of small communities, in which food and energy and manufactured goods will be produced and consumed close to market, and in which small-scale – often rather simple – technology will be the rule. Ordinary people, whether by themselves or in free combinations, will look after their own healthcare and welfare and will arrange for the education of their children.

As said, this is a long book, and a full summary of its argument would fill a much longer review article than mine. But this is, I think, the essence of what Mr Carson is arguing. And rather than elaborate on this essence, I think it would be more useful to explain what I find so remarkable about it. What is there to justify the praise that I gave in my first paragraph?

One answer – urged on me by a friend who calls himself an anarcho-communist – might be that Mr Carson has written the definitive refutation of free market libertarianism. To anyone who has read not more than a few pages of his work, this is a superficially persuasive opinion. Mr Carson does not regard himself as a free market libertarian as this term is generally understood. He says instead:

I belong to the general current of the Left so beautifully described by the editors of Radical Technology (‘the “recessive left” of anarchists, utopians and visionaries, which tends only to manifest itself when dominant genes like Lenin or Harold Wilson are off doing something else’). “[p.1]

He does also, I admit, sneer many times at what he calls “vulgar libertarians” – these being people who defend plutocratic privilege as if it were a close approximation to a free market order. I also admit there are such people. The Internet is crawling with people who call themselves libertarians, and who defend the right of a drug company to sell its products in different markets at different prices, and to use the power of the State to suppress private arbitrage between these markets. Ayn Rand and – without her own reservations – her followers worship big business as the highest possible stage of human development. So far as they accept that there is a parasite class, this is the poor and unsuccessful who act via the politicians they have been unwisely allowed to elect to office. The Chicago libertarians for the most part seem to define a free market as little more than “Tesco/Walmart minus the State”. They readily accept that there are groups benefiting from state action, but do not accept the existence of a “ruling class”. And they deny that big business forms part of a system that is inherently exploitative. It might be argued that Mr Carson is attacking free market libertarians for hypocrisy.

But this is not his intention, and I think it would be regrettable if his book were to be regarded as an attack. He also says:

I embrace both the free market and the socialist libertarian camps…. I write from the perspective of individualist anarchism, as set forth by William B. Greene and Benjamin Tucker among others, and as I attempted to update it for the twenty-first century.[p.1]

For all his sneering at the “vulgar libertarians”, Mr Carson’s analysis proceeds much of the time – and with full awareness and acknowledgement – along the same lines as that of Murray Rothbard and of other free market libertarian critics of plutocracy. Almost every page of this book and of all else he has written shows and admits the influence of the Austrian school of free market economics. The Index of this book contains thirty eight references to Rothbard – quotations from his works or generally favourable comments on them. I do not think this famous passage is among those quoted:

Every element in the New Deal program: central planning, creation of a network of compulsory cartels for industry and agriculture, inflation and credit expansion, artificial raising of wage rates and promotion of unions within the overall monopoly structure, government regulation and ownership, all this had been anticipated and adumbrated during the previous two decades. And this program, with its privileging of various big business interests at the top of the collectivist heap, was in no sense reminiscent of socialism or leftism; there was nothing smacking of the egalitarian or the proletarian here. No, the kinship of this burgeoning collectivism was not at all with socialism-communism but with fascism, or socialism-of-the-right, a kinship which many big businessmen of the twenties expressed openly in their yearning for abandonment of a quasi-laissez-faire system for a collectivism which they could control.[Murray Rothbard, Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty (1965), available at]

Even if not quoted, though, the passage shows an obvious similarity of approach. Or we can take a passage from Sheldon Richman that is quoted:

Many self-styled defenders of the free market misunderstand the American system. They believe that under a thin layer of government intervention lies the system they cherish. All we need to do is scrape away that layer, and glorious capitalism will be restored.
They couldn’t be more wrong. There is no thin layer of intervention. Government has intruded deeply into economic activity from the beginning, most particularly in banking and finance, which is by nature at the center of any economy. The web of privilege and control is pervasive, touching all parts of the economy. Moreover, this intervention was never imposed on bankers, financiers, and the rest of the business elite. It was welcomed — to be more precise, it was invited and sponsored by them. Free enterprise, risk, and loss were for the little guy. Partnership with the state was for the elite. That partnership meant favoritism and protection from competition. It meant exemption from market discipline and exploitation of taxpayers, consumers, and workers.[Sheldon Richman, The Corporate State Wins (2008), available at]

Of course, written in 2008, this may show the influence of Mr Carson rather than any influence on him. But there can be no doubt that Organization Theory is a book written by a free market libertarian of sorts – and is a book that contains much of value to the free market libertarian analysis of actually existing capitalism. Its value lies in three areas. First, it carries the analysis of how plutocracy operates to a deeper radicalism than can be found in much of Rothbard and his circle. Second, he provides an overpowering weight of evidence for this analysis – evidence, I grant, of not always the highest value. Third, he writes from a perspective not often understood by free market libertarians.

I will avoid discussing his views of incorporation, as this is already an emerging consensus within free market libertarianism. I have written something on this myself, and my opinion – that the joint stock limited liability corporation is an unnatural and an undesirable development – is one that I formed before reading Mr Carson, even if this opinion has been strengthened by reading him. What did come new to me was his analysis of how distortions in the transport market tend to subsidise the growth of big business. It is some while since I read Rothbard with close attention, but I do not think he regarded these subsidies as of central importance. Hans-Hermann Hoppe does mention them somewhere in passing as more instances of coerced association. But I think Mr Carson is the first to treat them as of central importance. And once properly understood, they can be used to remove one of the main disputes between libertarians and traditionalist conservatives, among others.

For the better part of two centuries, conservatives have been sceptical of free trade because of its alleged tendency to destroy local patterns of enterprise and the relationships deriving from these. Their complaint has been that the removal of tariffs has tended to deprive large numbers of people – especially the native working classes – of any reasonable market for their services. Against this, libertarians have used the formally irrefutable logic of comparative advantage. If it is cheaper to import wheat or steel from abroad, they have argued, it is economically inefficient and a violation of rights to force people to buy these things from native suppliers.

While irrefutable, however, the theory of comparative cost is usually argued on the assumption of zero transport costs. Once these are taken into account, extended foreign trade may become far less profitable. Richard Cobden once observed that British agriculture was already protected by the high cost of shipping corn from Russia. What has happened since then is the growth of a vast international transport system built or subsidised by the taxpayers. This has brought down transport costs paid at the point of use and enabled the growth of unnaturally large patterns of international trade.

I live in one of the main apple growing regions of England. Even in the autumn, I can go into my local supermarket and find apples on sale from South Africa, from Chile, and even from China. When I drive home every summer from Slovakia, I find myself stuck on the smaller German motorways behind lorries carrying food from Turkey. How much of this trade would make economic sense if price in the shops reflected the full cost of transport? How much would there be if the motorways had not been built by the State, with powers of compulsory purchase and with grants of immunity against tort for pollution? How much would there be if transport companies had to pay the full cost of the wear their lorries made on the roads? How much would there be if the costs of stabilising the Middle East were reflected in the price of commercial diesel?

Adam Smith pointed out that grapes could be grown in Scotland, but that the opportunity costs made this a foolish use of resources. Perhaps it is. But perhaps if the full costs of production and transport entered into price, might it not make better sense to grow our own exotic fruits – especially given our more advanced agricultural techniques? Does it make real economic sense to import every consumer good imaginable from China and the Far East? Would it not be cheaper, in the absence of distortions, to buy television sets from a factory in our home town? Would it not be cheaper to spend more on maintaining most consumer durables than on replacing them every few years?

We are accustomed to laugh at ill-informed attacks on Ricardo and the other economists of foreign trade. But perhaps these attacks do contain factual truths that our own assumptions about trade theory prevent us from understanding. Perhaps if we were to take account of real transport costs, this whole dispute might be seen as another dialogue of the deaf.

The longest section of Organization Theory is contained under the heading “Systemic Effects of Centralization and Excessive Organizational Size”. This is made up of observations that strike me for the most part as common sense – and even common knowledge – but that I have not before seen brought together into a structure of analysis. Indeed, though I did teach management theory for several years, its overall theme was a revelation to me. As said, many libertarians recognise that big business is inherently exploitative. But we have also assumed that it is reasonably productive within its own terms. It is not. As already mentioned, Mr Carson believes that large firms show many of the weaknesses long since indentified in centrally-planned economies. He says:

Individual human beings make optimal decisions only when they internalize the costs and benefits of their own decisions. The larger the organization, the more the authority to make decisions is separated both from the negative consequences and from the direct knowledge of the results. And in a hierarchy, the consequences of the irrational and misinformed decisions of those at the top are borne by the people who are actually doing the work. The direct producers, who know what’s going on and experience directly the consequences of decisions, have no direct control of those decisions.[p.193]

The results of this are an obsession at the top with targets that can be measured and an indifference to local understandings of how work may best be done. Profitability crises are managed by thinly-veiled attempts to make people work harder for less, by “downsizings” that cut measurable costs while destroying intangible patterns of human capital, greater incentives to management to restore profitability, and an interest in fad management theories that talk of “empowerment” and decentralised control, but are just shifts in legitimising ideology to jolly the workers along.

Strikes and other forms of industrial action should not be seen as mindless wrecking, or attacks on property or violations of contract. Rather, they are often attempts by the workers to claw back some of the humanity stolen by them. Nor can what is often the standard libertarian analysis of free contracting be used to justify the increasing authoritarianism of big business. Mr Carson looks at the increasing attempts to control what workers do in their own time:

Vulgar libertarians like to stress that, ‘in a free market,’ workers are free to take their labor elsewhere if they don’t like their working conditions. And many free market libertarians respond with just that advice–frequently in quite indignant terms–in response to workers’ complaints about their employers. Every complaint about employers’ restrictions on their employees’ freedom of speech and association outside of work is met with the response: ‘Well, nobody’s forcing you to work there.’
Well, yes and no. We market anarchists do not propose the imposition of any external constraint on what terms an employer can set as a condition of employment. The question is not whether the state should permit employers to set such conditions, but what kind of a market allows it?

Just how godawful do the other ‘options’ have to be before somebody’s desperate enough to take a job, and hold onto it like grim death, under conditions of stagnant pay, where (thanks to downsizing and speedups) they’re doing their own work plus that of a former coworker?
But never mind those things. How do things get to the point where people are lined up to compete for jobs where they can be forbidden to associate with coworkers away from work, where even squalid, low-paying retail jobs can involve being on-call 24/7, where employees can’t attend political meetings without keeping an eye out for an informer, or can’t blog under their own names without living in fear that they’re a websearch away from termination?[pp.402-03]

This analysis shades into a perspective on libertarianism that I, for one, had never really considered before. I came to libertarianism by reading Whigs like Macaulay and classical liberals like John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer. The common tendency of these writers is to view society from fairly close to the top. Liberty is good, they argue at least impliedly, because it means that well-educated middle class people get left alone to live as they please. My libertarian friends were mostly brought over by reading American writers of the twentieth century. Our common opponents have been socialist intellectuals who cry up the plight of the working man as an excuse for expanding state power. Those of us who are English and have reached middle age remember the crises of the 1970s, in which trade union activists seemed to be trying for a pro-Soviet revolution. There is for us a natural identity between property and liberty. And we have been inclined by reading and experience to identify the defence of property with defence of the propertied classes. If we have adopted the more radical approach of Murray Rothbard, it has been to complain at how the plutocratic elites have plundered middle class people like ourselves. Something most of us have never considered other than in passing is the position of those at the bottom – the semi-skilled and unskilled working classes.

Several years ago, I sat down to dinner with David Carr, who is the Legal Affairs Spokesman for the Libertarian Alliance. We discussed at some length what sort of outreach we could develop for those at the bottom. Libertarianism, I said, offered lower taxes to all. So what? David asked. A checkout assistant in Tesco pays little tax, and probably gains on balance from the welfare state. So what about freedom of thought and speech? he went on. These people are not very intellectual. And what of the right to live as they choose? They can already do that. Whatever taxes and restrictions there might be on cigarettes and drink and other recreational drugs, these do not really apply to anyone who is not worried about the occasional brush with the law. Granted – non-libertarian political systems, if they turn totalitarian, murder large numbers of people, and do not usually discriminate by class. But the chance that England will fall under a Stalin or a Pol Pot are not worth mentioning.  Granted – the abolition or hampering of markets means that goods are allocated more on the basis of connections than of price. But the poor lack both connections and money. They are made worse off – but not often in ways they can be brought to consider. Libertarianism is a fine ideology for the productive middle classes and those with the energy and ambition to rise into them. But what about the workers? Our conclusion was to find some way of preaching the benefits of “trickle down” – that the lower classes benefit from how their betters use their freedom – and to hope that some non-libertarian party might wrap up a certain amount of libertarian policy in complaints about the European Union and mass-immigration.

Our discussion was, I must say, a little more sophisticated than that. But the question of how to preach libertarianism outside the middle classes did not get much further than that. Shortly after this, I discovered the work of Kevin Carson, and my view of the question was transformed. His present book draws his earlier work together into one place and reinforces that transformation. The problem with all those patronising Labour apparatchiks and the scum in donkey jackets selling their newspapers outside Underground stations is their prescription. Their diagnosis that ordinary working people are exploited in a system that transfers wealth upwards is broadly correct.

People at the bottom suffer from plutocratic state capitalism because it robs them of the dignity that comes of being respectably poor – that is, being securely in control of their own lives. It raises the price of all goods and services to them. It places direction of their lives into the hands of credentialed elites. It herds them into large state or formally private organisations and subjects them to irrational and authoritarian control of their working lives. It forces them to live in disgusting conditions by preventing them from taking over unused land and building their own homes according to their abilities.

But “[c]onsider” says Mr Carson,

the process of running a small, informal brew pub or restaurant out of your home, under a genuine free market regime. Buying a brewing kettle and a few small fermenting tanks for your basement, using a few tables in an extra room as a public restaurant area, etc., would require at most a bank loan for a few thousand dollars. And with that capital outlay, you could probably service the debt with the margin from a few customers a week. A modest level of business on evenings and weekends, probably drawn from among your existing circle of acquaintances, would enable you to initially shift some of your working hours from wage labor to work in the restaurant, with the possibility of gradually phasing out wage labor altogether or scaling back to part time, as you built up a customer base. In this and many other lines of business, the minimal entry costs and capital outlay mean that the minimum turnover required to pay the overhead and stay in business would be quite modest. In that case, a lot more people would be able to start small businesses for supplementary income and gradually shift some of their wage work to self employment, with minimal risk or sunk costs.[p.549]

This does not talk – as many libertarians do when considering small businesses – about something that might turn its owner into a millionaire. It talks instead about micro-businesses that will never make anyone rich, but will simply make their owners independent of a system that turns them into serfs and bribes them with welfare handouts into becoming electoral fodder for the farce that is plutocratic social democracy. However, all this is presently illegal. There are taxes and regulations that exclude this sort of micro-business. The benefit that libertarianism holds out to the Tesco checkout assistant is not lower taxes on her pitiful and already mostly untaxed salary, but the chance not to work for Tesco.

Let me now turn from those areas where I completely agree with Mr Carson to those where I may disagree in principle, but am inclined to agree in practice. I am not sure if I agree with his opinions on land ownership. Certainly, I have no objection to expropriating South American latifundia and dividing these among the peasants who work them. But these are the product of obvious and usually recent theft overseen by the State. I am less sure about the illegitimacy of the rental income I derive from a second property. I am less sure about the income I hope one day to derive from owning a number of commercial properties. On the other hand, big landowners in England at least are part of the plutocratic ruling class. Most agricultural land here still seems to be owned by the old aristocracy – even if ownership is concealed by trusts and other corporate forms. This ownership prevents the emergence of a self-sufficient farming class. Perhaps there is a case for some confinement of property rights in land to what an owner can reasonably use for himself.

I am also divided on some intellectual property rights. I accept that patents are illegitimate. But copyrights are another matter. I own several property rights from which I do hope to grow rather rich, and – even discounting my personal interests – I think it would be unjust to deprive writers and composers of their royalties. I know that there are other systems of reward that do not rely on grants of monopoly privilege, and these may become more important as the enforcement of copyright grows technically more difficult. For the moment, though, I do look forward to my royalty cheques and do not regard them as ill-gotten.

On the other hand, I accept that copyright laws serve mostly to enrich media companies that are part of the ruling class. The main function of these companies is to brainwash us into accepting the system in which we live, or to moronise us into not being able to notice how we are tyrannised over and exploited. I am not sure.

I am more decided about Mr Carson’s acceptance of the environmentalist claims. I do not believe that we are running out of natural resources. I certainly do not think, as Mr Carson insists, that we are living in the age of “peak oil” – that “the greatest sources of concentrated energy [i.e., fossil fuels] are almost certainly reaching their peak[p.432], and that we shall soon see a decline in their extraction. I will not bother in what is already a long review with digressing on a reply to this claim. I simply do not believe it. That being said, I do like his vision of a decentralised world where energy needs are met locally or in the home. We have lived for around two centuries now in a civilisation powered by oil and coal and gas. WE have got most of our oil from a Middle East that we have had to colonise and generally turn upside down. One cost of our dependence on oil has been the grown of giant oil companies that are leading members of the plutocratic ruling class. Another cost has been radical Islam. However generated, our energy needs have been met by vast, centralised distribution networks over which we as individual have no control, and which encourage us into attitudes of passive reliance on the ruling class.

Yet there are alternative ways of generating and distributing energy. At the moment, these are more expensive than those already established. This is partly because most of the alternatives are not very good in themselves – but also because we have had generations of effort put into making the best of moving large amount of oil around the planet, or distributing electricity and gas via national networks. There is no reason to suppose that these alternatives should always be a joke. That is why I am often unsure about the green movement. So far as it wants to shout down industrial civilisation and return us to the long preceding age when energy consumption was minimal, I stand happily beside the most fanatical and vexatious Randroid. So far as it might be useful to bringing about a world in which energy consumption can rise without limit – but without state-built or state-controlled energy networks – I am inclined to put on a straight face and nod hopefully over talk of wind turbines and solar cells.

Let me now conclude with one purely negative criticism of Mr Carson. I come back to his denigration of the “vulgar libertarians”. Since I probably do not qualify as one of these according to his definitions – and probably never have done – I hope my defence will not be seen as self-serving apologetic. But what have these people said that is so absolutely reprehensible? They have defended the most fantastically productive economic system that has ever been extensively tried. If, judged by the strict standards applied by Mr Carson – standards that I largely accept – this system is lacking. Compared with any other, it is barely the wrong side of heaven itself. It is exploitative at home. Say what other system has not been. It is nakedly exploitative in outlying regions. Again, say what other system has not been. It is riddled with irrationalities and waste of human and material resources. I repeat the challenge. We have lived under something like our present system for at least one century – perhaps two or more. Mr Carson is still free to write up and publish his devastating attack on it; and I am free to give it a more or less enthusiastic review. If the “vulgar libertarians” have given any intellectual support that has enabled the system to survive, they still rank among the benefactors of mankind.

[Following much comment on this Blog and in private correspondence, I have decided to cut several paragraphs that follow]

But this is a matter that takes me far from the subject of this review.  Mr Carson has written a very long book. Even so, it is filled with arguments and insights that, I repeat, will enrich and transform the vision of a free society held by anyone who reads it. Despite what I see as its occasional faults, I heartily recommend it.

NB—Sean Gabb’s book, Cultural Revolution, Culture War: How Conservatives Lost England, and How to Get It Back, can be downloaded for free from


  1. Thanks Sean for an illuminating review. As a vulgar libertarian I am grateful for the defence in the last part of your review.

    I will buy the book and review fully elsewhere when time permits. But in the meantime, one thought occurs to me in relation to Carson’s point on subsidised transport costs. It is this. A large proportion of world trade is conducted by ship (I recall seeing a figure of 90% and I suspect this is not far from the truth). Any analysis that does not consider the extent to which world shipping is subsidised (or not), is thus defective. This is not to say that there is no net subsidy in this area, but the question is empirical and the answer is not immediately obvious to me.

  2. I very much enjoyed reading this excellent review and look forward to studying the book at length. However, I am also sceptical about the transport subsidies hypothesis. The transport sector is clearly heavily taxed and regulated by the state. At the same time, it is not clear whether transport costs would be higher or lower in an unhampered market economy. They could well be far lower, with the removal of barriers to new technology, no taxes or tariffs, and with strong price incentives to address pollution and land purchase problems.

  3. Richard – it’s very hard to know whether transport is on balanced taxed or subsidised. I agree with Keven Carson that it is heavily subsidised on balance. However, the only way to find out is to get the State out of the way and then find out.

  4. Patrick – Let me respond briefly to this part of your comment:

    “My first point would be that the overall tone adopted by Gabb in the paragraph quoted above is reminiscent of, say, a Negro slave defending his relatively kindly master: Yes, I recognise that I don’t have my freedom, that I, and my fellow slaves, are exploited by our owners, but things could be so much worse. Imagine what our condition would be like were we to suffer under a more brutal owner? No, let’s be thankful for what we have.”

    I think that is pretty well what I’m saying. But let’s clarify the analogy. We are slaves on the only plantation we know where the Master isn’t a complete monster – in which we are allowed to choose our own marriage partners, and to farm our little plots, and to speak our minds even to railing against the institution of slavery. Yes, the Master works us hard on “his” land, and we can see him conspicuously enjoying the fruits of our labour. Even so, he doesn’t behave nearly so badly as any of his neighbours.

    Now, there has always been slavery, and there is virtually no chance that it will end – especially as most of the slaves accept it as a legitimate institution.

    Moreover, there is a chance that some of the Master’s most horrible neighbours will somehow get possession of “his” land. Some of the other slaves look forward to this – either because they have believed the promises of still better treatment put about, or because they see through these lies and hope that despair will drive all the slaves to throw off their chains.

    If I defend the present Master as “not too bad compared with the alternatives”, does this make me some Uncle Tom who should never be taken seriously?

    Though in brief, I think this clarifies your analogy. I accept that plutocratic social democracy is an illegitimate system. But it’s the best on offer, and being glad of its benefits is not inherently wrong.

  5. Here is a point Richard Garner makes against me. I think it is an important one, even if I don’t agree with it, and think it is worth publishing more widely:

    I’m not sure about the criticisms of “many from Mr Carson’s tradition” who thought the Soviet
    “experiment” should be given a chance. Whilst I am not sure what tradition of Mr carson’s you are
    referring to here, I’m not sure there were many prominent “left anarchists” who supported it at all.
    Victor Serge is the only person I know who was an anarchist communist and converted to state
    socialism as a result (and his apologia for that contains the excellent insight that all anarchist com
    munists are local centralisers). Fairly soon after the consolidation of Leninist rule Kropotkin was
    placed under house arrest. George Woodcock said that Kropotkin’s funeral, shortly after, was the
    last time black flags flew openly in Russia until the fall of the USSR. Anarchist observers from
    abroad, like Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman left in dismay and horror. There were
    anarchist influences in the Kronstadt rebellion *against* soviet centralism and also, of course in
    Makhno’s activities in the Ukraine, which resulted in Makhno’s confrontations with both White and
    Red armies. And this is all from an anarchist comunist versus Soviet perspective, which is not even
    the tradition Kevin is claiming to be a part of. I took a look at my old battered copy of James
    Martin’s Men Against the State to see if there was mention of Tucker’s views on the Soviet
    situation. There wasn’t, but there was a passage in which Martin writes, “On the world scene of the
    mid-1930s, Tucker’s views were unequivocal. ‘Capitalism is at least tolerable, which cannot be said
    of Socialism or Communism,’ he declared, going on to observe that ‘Under any of these regimes a
    sufficiently shrewd man can feather his nest.”

  6. Sean, I’ve been trying all over the commentboxosphere to get libertarians to try to appreciate the “workers problem”- that is that until liberty can be sold to the “checkout assistant” it is a waste of all our breath. I have some time ago reached the same conclusion as you draw in your review and refer to Mr Carson expounding- that of “liberation from the workplace”. (I also think that this is going to be “obligatory” when robotics and expert systems/AI really come into their own, shortly, as the era of mass industrial labour will come sharply to a close, and the only alternative will be mass unemployment and terrible economic disaster, but that is another matter). So I’m glad to see it being discussed here.

    There are too many libertarians who, when asked about those they consider lesser mortals, effectively say, “well f*ck them, they’re none of my business” without applying the modicum of rudimentary analysis required to realise that until one has a solution for “the masses”, one has no solution at all.

    I mentioned recently at Samizdata that the marxist problem- “the workers do not own the means of production”- is not solved by marxism, as it just transfers ownership to the state. Whereas libertariaism- applied with thought- does answer this question, much as discussed above, by shifting from what we may term state capitalism or mass capitalism to “individual capitalism”.

    I think we need to be thinking in terms of what one might call in soundbite terms the abolition of employment. That is, economically gradually (or even quite rapidly) shifting away from the very idea of master/serf employment contracts to seeing individuals as traders. The current whole economic system is predicated on employers and employment and it is from that presumption that so many economic follies emerge- particularly the focus on “creating jobs” rather than allowing people to be productive (in and on their own terms).

  7. Taking all the facts into consideration, I see little evidence for any centralizing effect of transport subsidies. Privately-funded roads and canals preceded railroads and freeways in the 18th century. Subsidies came later, after improvements had already been proven in the marketplace. The best transport systems have always been those that followed pre-existing travel patterns; e.g., the Erie Canal followed a trail my Mohawk ancestors had long been using for transport from the Hudson river to Lake Ontario. The first people to make it big in shipping in the modern era were my Dutch ancestors, who did so with ships stripped of any military utility and designed strictly for transport. They relied upon diplomacy and free trade for protection, not naval power. Oil was also originally proven more efficient than its predecessors (whale oil and coal) without subsidy. The resulting reduction in transaction costs benefited all, not just large firms, and would tend to reduce firm size rather than increase it. Other factors must explain increased firm size.

    As for increased firm size, I’m far from convinced that the size of the average firm has gone up. Rather, a few firms are quite large. The main explanation for this seems to be technological discoveries with mass application and production methods that are costly to replicate. Those replication costs can be exacerbated by intellectual property laws, and on that point Carson is correct.

    Also, there was no cap on real wage compensation in the 1970s, that is simply a Left-wing anti-capitalist myth. There was a shift from wage to non-wage labor compensation, primarily retirement and health care benefits. Taking this into account, real labor compensation has risen steadily since the 1970s.

  8. Sean — thanks for reading and responding.

    You quote Richard Garner above, who pointed out that that Tucker stated:

    “Capitalism is at least tolerable, which cannot be said of Socialism or Communism”

    which I believe is fairly close to your rebuttal of the main thrust of my argument?

    I would counter that it is precisely because state capitalism is more tolerable that it is so pernicious. Whilst the ‘evils’ of the alternatives are blatant enough to be obvious to many, those of our hallowed system are far better hidden. Consequently, there is considerable inertia to change — why would Joe Public demand it if what we have is “the best on offer”, as you put it?

    This is one the prime reasons that I honestly believe that we libertarians must strive to both constantly attack the current system (i.e. pointing out its exploitative nature), and to exercise extreme caution in any dealings with those who tacitly support the status quo.

    I do appreciate that you may desire to foster a ‘big tent’ approach in your efforts to free society from statism, but am personally very cautious about lying down with dogs, lest I rise with something unpleasant.

    The current economic convulsions offer us an infrequent opportunity to place some distance between ourselves and those who have been lauding the benefits of the (non-existent) free-market for the last few decades. It strikes me that now is precisely the wrong time to be embracing those who have consistently supported the ancien régime, thus granting them much needed succour in their hour of need.

  9. Patrick – Perhaps. However, there may be 500 people in England who want a radical libertarian utopia, and perhaps ten times that many if you could lecture them for a fortnight. In the meantime, there are millions who are discontented the the present order of things and who want a slightly more libertarian alternative.

    I’m not in the least suggesting we should go quiet on saying what we believe. But I do urge the value of being friendly with as many discontented groups as we reasonably can.

    But I think this is a difference of strategy over which we can agree to disagree. Your methods don’t get in the way of mine. And since I try to be honest with all audiences about what I think and want, I don’t think I get in your way.

  10. Thank you for this review. I enjoyed it very much, and it’s a work and set of ideas that I find really exciting.

    However, it was spoilt a little for me at the end, when you say: “But these people never turned a blind eye to, or put a pleasing gloss, on anything approaching in its evil the collectivisation of the Ukraine or the Great Leap Forward.”

    This, of course, is either disingenuous or very carefully worded.

    You don’t have to scratch a vulgar libertarian very deeply before all sorts of deeply unsavoury views come bubbling out.

    Whether it be defences of Pinochet: (see the first comment on this post: ), vicarious glee at the murder of local government officials ( – Interestingly, Perry went very quiet about this when it became clear that the murderer he so admired was the failed Socialist candidate for mayor); and, my particular favourite, defences of the Chinese regime: here’s ‘libertarian’ commenter Wobbly Guy on Samizdata (

    “That’s it. I’m pinning my hopes on China. I don’t care if the Chinese
    are authoritarians. They believe in capitalism, and I’m throwing in
    with them.”

    Vulgar libertarians very rarely see a jackboot they won’t queue up to lick.

    However, as I’ve been arguing for a few days now, our instinctive reactions as to whether or not we are left- or right- or vulgar- libertarians cloud a lot of issues, and are more emotional than substantive in many cases. (Not that there aren’t substantive issues, but that even they – in the debate between Kevin Carson and Paul Marks on this site, say – become hugely distorted by the suspicion that some of us are ‘left’ or ‘right’. We get so hysterical we end up call each other ‘enemies of Western civilisation’ of ‘people who haven’t seena jackboot they wouldn’t queue up to lick’.)

    As you show, by taking an otherwise excellent review and closing it with a piece of spiteful, petty, reactive non-thought. To wit: Some people who may agree with Kevin Carson (although I am unable to come up with examples) may have once believed in a system of thought that was inimical to that which they now hold, despite their not saying so. As an example of this here is a quotation from someone who did not do just that. He didn’t, but the rest of you were tempted to. You authoritarian bastards.

    When you see someone calling themselves a libertarian standing up for military dictators, by all means call them out (you don’t have far to look, Samizdata isn’t difficult to find), but don’t pretend that the real problem is the voodoo left-libertarians whom you can imagine holding unpleasant views.

    Mneh. Enough. I’m boring myself.

  11. Oh, very well – I won’t cut my defence of the vulgar libertarians, but I do withdraw my sneer at the left libertarians. I’ll cut it from the version hosted on my own site. I did the review at onde sitting, and was beginning to run out of steam when I got there. Perhaps I should have waited a day before publishing.

  12. For the avoidance of any doubt, I withdraw the following from my review:

    This may not be the case with many of the “left wing libertarians” Mr Carson counts among his friends and influences. I am not attacking him. Nor am I accusing all libertarians outside my own cluster of traditions of being closet Stalinists. …. [I will not quote the rest]….Yes, I am embarrassed to share a movement with defenders of Monsanto and the fake privatisations of Margaret Thatcher. But these people never turned a blind eye to, or put a pleasing gloss, on anything approaching in its evil the collectivisation of the Ukraine or the Great Leap Forward.

    Now that the threat of Soviet state socialism has gone, and now that the prime threat to liberty is a New World Order backed by our plutocratic elites, the time has come to forget past differences, and for all those who believe in liberty to work together and learn from each other. This means that we should all consider what we or our friends may have said or defended in the past. When all this is said, however, I am happier to share a movement with “vulgar libertarians” than Soviet stooges.

  13. Sean, an excellent review. I would be interested to know your opinions on Carson’s overproduction thesis i.e. that there is an artificially high level of production caused by government subsidies and interventions that cannot be absorbed by the consumer, hence the need for Keynesianism (government inflation of the money supply directed at consumers). I believe Carson also says that Keynesianism wouldn’t “work” in a true free-market economy but is necessary as a corrective to the current corporate economy.

  14. Noam Chomsky is a rather obvious example of a left-libertarian apologist for Stalinist/Maoist regimes. For example, at the height of the Great Leap Famine, he claimed that Maoism could at least feed the Chinese people. He defended the Viet Cong, making propaganda broadcasts on Radio Hanoi, and he later went on to cast doubt on Cambodian refugees who accurately reported the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. He generally defended Soviet aggression by characterizing everything the USA ever did to resist Soviet aggression as a crime against humanity. Most recently, he accused the USA of planning a “silent genocide” in Afghanistan when we went to war against the Taliban, and has been defending the openly genocidally anti-Semites of Hamas by characterizing Israel as the aggressor in the Middle East.

    As for the claim that “vulgar libertarians” have from time to time defended military dictatorships, that is true, but none of those dictatorships have been anywhere near as bad as the totalitarian communist regimes defended by left-libertarians.

    Perhaps individualist anarchists do not share in the guilt for these left-anarchist actions. However, they would do a better job of avoiding the blame if they didn’t echo the anti-capitalist myths originated and propagated by the apologists for Communism. (Such as the “declining real wages since 1970” myth that I mentioned before.)

    Finally, if Carson truly believes that inflationary monetary policy is a “corrective” for overproduction, then he’s got it backwards. Inflation is the cause of overproduction (malinvestment, really), not its cure.

  15. I don’t think he is talking about a general oversupply. I think instead he is saying that government distortions cuase an oversupply of certain commodities.

    As for Keynesianism, I am inclined to agree that a burst of inflation may be the least bad solution when markets are so corporatised that big companies would sooner cut output and employment than prices and wages.

  16. Thanks very much, Sean.

    Tim: Re transportation, what matters is not so much whether privately organized transportation is possible, or whether it can operate at a lower real unit cost, as on whom the burden falls.

    An inefficient system beats the most cost-efficient system in the world when somebody else is paying for it, and you’d have to bear the full cost of the efficient system yourself.

    And consider how much lower the total capacity of the private transportation system was compared to that of the state-subsidized system.

    I consider it unlikely in the extreme that a centralized system of railroad trunk lines would have come about on anything remotely approaching that of the actual system, absent the railroad land grants and direct subsidies.

  17. Kevin: Thanks for your reply. I do realize that I’m arguing with a review of your book, and that your full argument may fill in some of the gaps I’m seeing. However, I still see the same gaps in your reply that I saw in Gabb’s review. To wit:

    1) I disagree that mere externalization of costs onto the taxpayers necessarily has a centralizing effect upon firm size; or, I hold that other factors may push in a decentralizing direction and trump any centralizing effect of negative externalities. After all, not all firms are large, even though virtually all of them benefit to some degree from goods whose costs have been externalized by the State.

    2) Nor does the mere fact of tax-subsidy mean that large firms benefit more than small ones from the subsidies. As you say, it depends on whom the burden falls, and State-funding is not necessarily regressive. In theory, for instance, a State financed entirely by progressive corporate income taxes would not fall subject to this criticism.

    3) Historically, there has often been a high correlation between tax-payers and tax-beneficiaries. For instance, the US Federal governments original revenue stream came in large part from tariffs, which went in part to pay for the US Naval frigates that protected US commerce from the likes of the Barbary Pirates.

    4) I also disagree with the claim that an inefficient system with tax subsidies will necessarily succeed over more efficient systems without tax subsidies. Your claim seems to be that the only reason why any centralized systems have succeeded is because they were tax-subsidized; in short, they’re successful because they’re subsidized. However, I gave numerous examples of transit systems comparable to present subsidized ones that were not subsidized. Furthermore, there are plenty of examples of subsidized transport systems that are failures, such as most light rail systems which carry far less passengers than freeways (or Amtrak, for that matter). The fact that they’re subsidized is not determinative of their success. The subsidies can have all sorts of other bad effects, of course. I think you need to allow for cases in which things are subsidized because they are more efficient (which is not to say that their subsidies are justified by that efficiency).

    5) As for whether “a centralized system of railroad trunk lines” could’ve come about without subsidies, I believe the SF Bay Area’s Key Route was an example of that:

    Perhaps that’s not exactly what you mean by “railroad trunk lines,” but if not then I think it’s close enough to serve as a proof-of-concept.

    (BTW, San Francisco also has private police forces, too – the SF Patrol Specials.)

  18. Brilliant stuff, Sean. Keep it up.

    I first started thinking in these terms myself a few years ago when I heard that the nearby Queen’s Market in Upton Park was to be taken over by Asda.

    I couldn’t get my head around this because I considered Queen’s Market to be a remarkable place: you could get a 10kg bag of onions for £1,
    and the quality and range of stuff there was huge. Plus, it had a “market feel” to it, was as cosmopolitan as you can get, and late in the day traders would drop their prices. At the end of the day they would give away stuff to the known “needy” of the area (including handicapped and infirm people, as I remember).

    To think that such a place – not only cheaper than any supermarket, but with better quality produce, with a real vibrant atmosphere and no wastage – could conceivably be replaced by an Asda, of all things, was a bit of a wake-up call for someone, like me, who until then believed in the supremacy of the “free market system” as I saw it.

    Fortunately in this case the battle to keep the market was won:

    As your analysis shows, however, the economy in general has not been so lucky.

  19. A very interesting and thoughtful review. I particularly like the example of the brew-pub. Key quote: “The benefit that libertarianism holds out to the Tesco checkout assistant is not lower taxes on her pitiful and already mostly untaxed salary, but the chance not to work for Tesco.”

    I rather admire Tesco but I take the point about the modern state bolstering large organisations and making it hard for smaller ones to get a foothold.

  20. The “scarcity theory of property rights” is being advanced by a number of scholars at the Cato and Von Mises Institutes. Using this theory they suggest that there is no justification for intellectual property rights. The logical conclusion of their theory is intellectual labor is not deserving of pecuniary reward.

    Are they correct that scarcity is the basis of property rights? See

    Is the conception of ideas and inventions subject to scarcity? See

    Is the distribution of ideas and invention (technology diffusion) subject to scarcity? See

  21. The prices charged for goods and services by companies and mostly not a result of supply and demand – but are “administered” prices instead.

    Not true.

    There is little competition between companies.

    Not true either.

    Thank you Dr Gabb.

    I have decided to assume that you are telling the truth about the contents of Mr Kevin Carson’s book.

    The book is, therefore, both not libertarian and worthless (being based on things that are not true).

    Your review means that I have no need to read the 600 page work.

  22. Mr. Halling is simply wrong that the history of intellectual property law has anything to do with not being a slave. Copyrights and patents began as grants of monopoly privilege by the Crown – the same monarchies that practiced slavery themselves.

    He is also wrong that the logical implication of the theory that no legal monopoly should be attached to intellectual products is that intellectual labor should be uncompensated. Plenty of goods are produced profitably without any copyright or patent protection, such as wood stoves, ketchup, or high-fashion designs. These goods are purchased because of their quality, novelty, or the prestige of getting them from a reputable creator.

  23. One thing that has not been explored in this thread is manufacturers (the great majority before the late 19th century) who were not limited liability enterprises – and did not profit from patents (again the great majority).

    There is a general assumption in the discussion of Kevin Carson’s work (not just this book, but his general work) that what he is against is two things – limited liability (i.e. the thing that churches, cooperatives, charities, mutual aid socieites and so on are based on as well as for profit corporations) and patents (of course this is a different thing as an unlimited liabilty enterprise may use patents and a limited liabilty one may not – there is no automatic connection).

    However, I hold this to be a false assumption. I hold that Mr Carson would also oppose unlimited liabilty private factory owners as well.

    In short that the talk of “corporations” and the talk of “patents” is just a diversion tactic.

    It would be easy to refute me – all Mr Carson would have to do is to write in support of the various private factory owners who were not limited liability operations.

    “Oddly enough” he has never done this.

  24. I am so pleased that Mr Marks is willing to believe that I am telling the truth about this book. I cannot say how happily I shall lie down at night to sleep.

  25. It is of course better to avoid having lots of government regulations (over and above the Common Law). But to say the selling of a state owned enterprise is “phony” because it is still regulated by the state is not true.

    Network rail is a phony company because it is 100% owned by the government.

    But British Telecom (even if it goes bankrupt – whether due to the regulations or due to bad management) is not a “phony” company because it operates in an industry that is regulated by the government.

    So it would be correct to say “Mrs Thatcher’s privitizations would have been better if the industries had not been regulated” not “Mrs Thatcher’s privitzations were phony”.

    To hold the latter position (to hold there is no fundemental difference between some, regretable, level of regulation and state ownership) is to hold there is no fundemental difference between North and South Korea or between Germany and the old East Germany or between the United States under Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

    Pure libertarianism must always be the objective (we must be satisfied with nothing less), but to imply that there is no fundemental difference between the above societies is false.

    I can remember a time when most Libertarians had no support for such ideas as “state capitalism” or the idea that we were in a corporate state no better than socialism. In fact I hold that this is still the case for most libertarians – although sadly some of us have changed (of course I have changed to – I am a bald man now and, rather more important, in chronic bad health, but my soul has not changed).

    People who forget that, whatever their many flaws, Ronald Reagan and Mrs Thatcher were heros and the struggle against Marxism around the world was a noble struggle, need to lay down in a cool dark room till they “find themselves” again.

  26. I note with interest that Dr Gabb has not dealt with any of the specific points that I have made.

    As he is an honest man (still, he has changed in other ways but not in that) I do not believe he is capable of doing so.

    Dr Gabb faces two alternatives – either accept the truth of what I said, or try and lie his way out.

    I predict he will do neither.

  27. I can remember a time when most Libertarians had no support for such ideas as “state capitalism” or the idea that we were in a corporate state no better than socialism.

    Then clearly you haven’t read any Murray Rothbard. It was far from his only point, and he did not apply the analysis in the direction Carson has, but his analysis of the USA (applicable to the Anglosphere) is quite clearly an analysis of its coporatism, which is distinct from Marxism.

    The USA, UK and other anglosphere countries have never voted for, nor been ruled by, communists. Our socialism is reformist “progressivism” which has at times incorporated half-heartedly various ideas from communism, such as nationalised industries. That is not the same thing.

    It is hard to read American economic, social and industrial history and not see the descent into statism as a result of cooperation between corporate groups and government. And neither is this analysis new. As I said, Rothbard’s writing is full of it. Libertarians who refuse to see the central role of the supposedly private sector in our current problems are simply missing a vital element necessary to understanding.

    I don’t agree with where Carson runs with this insight, personally- I think the belief that a free market would be localist and not globalist is absolutely potty for instance[1]- but that does not mean that those who blindly support corporatists have got it right either.

    [1] You can’t have a semiconductor fab in every town. You can’t have a TV factory making local televisions for local people in every town. Even if you decided on the inefficiency of that, they could only assemble parts sourced from all over the world. A truly free market would be, I contend, intensely global in nature.

  28. I said “most” Ian – not “all”.

    By the way Murry Rothbard did not hold that there was no fundemental difference between the United States and the Soviet Union – he “just” did not support opposing the Communists.

    The dispute between Frank Meyer (and others) and Murry Rothbard (and others) was not over whether there was a fundemental difference between the United States and the Soviet Union – it was over such things as the Korean war (Vietnam is a more complex matter as Meyer had a big problem with the tactics and objecives of both L.B.J. and Nixon – as Ronald Reagan did at the time).

    To be fair Rothbard was totally consistant – he also opposed resistance to the Nazis. Or rather he opposed American government resistance.

    He was a fine with volunteers going over to get killed in a doomed private enterprise resistance to the Nazis.

  29. I never met Murry Rothbard, by to imply that he held that West German or South Korea or the United States were no better than socialism is a gross libel on him – although I fully accept that, in law, one can not libel the dead.

  30. By the way Murry Rothbard did not hold that there was no fundemental difference between the United States and the Soviet Union

    I never claimed he did, Paul. It would help if you would reply to what I wrote, rather than what you wish I wrote. I clearly stated that anglosphere statism has a different character to communism, that is it is corporatist in nature, which is consistent with Rothbard’s analysis of the growth of the state in the USA.

    Please note also that “corporatism” does not mean just business corporations, but a state in which collectives- corporations- interact with and run the government. These corporations may be business corporations, but also may be industry groups, “charities”, pressure groups, “NGOs” etc etc.

    Nobody is claiming that we are living under communism. You’re fighting a straw man.

  31. Yes I know what corporatism means – although even Mussolini did not achieve it in practice (in fact it was never really his objective – it was more of a propaganda thing).

    Ludwig Von Mises covers the matter in Socialism and Human Action.

    I fully apologise for mistaking your intent.

    If your intent was to say “Britain and the United States are very far from libertarianism and Rothbard pointed this out” then I agree with you 100%.

    I also accept that things are a lot worse now than they were in the 1980’s.

  32. I cannot be bothered with Mr Marks and his claim that I am not a liar, but might be inclined to become one to escape his otherwise inescapable logic. I will simply note his implied claim that I am somehow less of a libertarian than he is. Now Mr Marks is a Conservative Councillor. According to The Conservative Counciller’s Guide,

    “Once you are elected as a Conservative councillor it is important to remember that you have been elected to speak in support of Conservative principles. You need to consider your actions whether making a speech or voting in council to ensure that it reflects our overall objectives.”

    This being so, would Mr Marks care to state, here on this blog, whether he believes in the complete relegalisation of all recreational drugs, in the repeal of the Obscene Publications laws, in the relegalising of incest between consenting adults, and in restoring the right of adults to walk into a gunshop and, without showing any permit or identification, buy as many guns and as much ammunition as they please – and to carry about and use these weapons for the protection of their life, liberty and property?

    It does no harm to ask. The answer will be interesting to me, and, I am sure, to many other people.

  33. I asked first Dr Gabb.

    You made statements that were not true.

    Namely that the prices for goods and services provided by private companies are not mostly determined by the market – but are “administered” (i.e. just dreamed up by corporate managers) instead. This claim is untrue.

    You also said that there is little competition between companies – which is also blatently false.

    However, you also made clear that these positions were not dreamed up by you – they were the postions of Kevin Carson and were the basis of his book. I do not know whether you believe in these positions or not.

    I pointed out, that, if you were correct, the book was both unlibertarian and worthless – because (by your own statements) it is based on things that are not true.

    As for your own questions – you seem to be making some sort of threat i.e. that if I give replies contrary to the policy of the Conservative party you will report me. Spread it around and so on.

    If you are not making such a (cowardly) threat that why quote the words you just did?

    You have changed a lot Sean Gabb – when I knew you were not a coward and a bully which you, sadly, seem to have become.

    However, I am on record as opposing the firearms laws and I still do. Although I rather doubt any firearm retailer would sell to an unknown person (to do so would run the risk of tort action quite apart from any criminal statute).

    I was unaware that incest ever have been “legal” – unless your word “relegalized” is an error (I admit I make typing errors a lot myself). I have no need to hide any past opinion supporting incest – because I have never supported it (what on Earth are you talking about?).

    On drugs I have pointed out that drug abuse was far less common in the 19th or early 20th century than it is now – well before any statutes were passed.

    I now point this out again.

    As for pornography. This country is saturated in it (so any statute that still exists appears to a be a dead letter – much as I have always argued that such statutes can not create the morality they claim to).

    As Gladstone rightly put it “of one thing I am certain, the state can not produce moral improvement”.

    I have repeatedly said that I agree with Gladstone on this point – and I now say so again.

    As for other things you might use against me:

    I have seen pornography myself – for example I (briefly) watched a show called “Naked News” on the “Playboy” station – and was horrified. Although not by ladies with no tops on – but by the support the show gave to a Chinese film claiming that American P.O.W.s were well treated during the Korean War, Mao (the biggest mass murderer in human history) was a nice guy – and that the Americans were only too glad to get away from the “oppressive” United States of Senator McCarthy.

    Now rush off to report me.

    Or alternatively – find the man you used to be.

    The man who would have not supported Reds like Kevin Carson.

    And you know in your heart that a Red is what Kevin Carson is.

  34. As far as I know, the basic point Sean was making in his review was that, while he had disagreements with some of Mr Carson’s views, he shared his general attack on the corporatist model of business that now operates in much of the UK. I personally think – having been covering financial affairs myself for many years – that we have a sort of mixed economy, with pockets of entrepreneurial vigor mixed with a lot of government-influenced business.

    I think the issue of limited liability, as Carson addresses it, is a mistake. So long as one knows one is dealing with a ll corp., then caveat emptor surely applies. I do not think that ll would necessarily disappear if the relevant companies acts were repealed; the benefits of being able to ringfence liabilities in some ways are too great.

    Not all writers who are published by the LA will be totally consistent; I once remember we published something by a supporter of Henry George, who challenged ideas of land ownership, which is hardly a very libertarian stance. But he said things that were, nonetheless, interesting. The same applies to Mr Carson.

  35. Mr Marks calls me a coward and a bully. I am a coward, apparently, because I fail to give chapter and verse on a point summarised from a book that I have reviewed. I will not do so because I am not the most appropriate person to do this. Mr Marks should take his question to Kevin Carson, and this time try to keep his temper.

    As for being a bully, I again fail to see what the man is talking about. My reason for asking those questions was to establish just how hypocritical Mr Marks has become. He is a Conservative Councillor. The Conservative Party is by no stretch of the imagination a libertarian party. Either Mr Marks has abandoned the libertarian principles lack of which he makes a point of denouncing in others – or he is in breach of Conservative Party rules.

    The Sean Gabb Mr Marks used to know may have seemed a nicer person. But he had yet to be moved to such derisive contempt by the spiteful, snivelling wreck that Mr Marks has since then become.

    For the record, I do not agree with all that Mr Carson says. I regard myself as a man of the right, and am almost as much a conservative as a libertarian. This being said, I am impressed by Mr Carson’s work in general. I am persuaded by certain parts of it. At all times, I think him one of the most significant newish voices in the libertarian movement, and am proud that the Libertarian Alliance has republished so much of his work.

    The Libertarian movement is very broad. It has room for Roderick Long and Kevin Carson, and for Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Lew Rockwell and Tom Palmer. It has room for me. It may even have some room for Paul Marks – assuming his answers to the questions I set him are regarded as sufficiently honest.

  36. I normally refrain from engaging Mr. Marks directly, for fear of provoking another pathetic “O tempora! O mores!” emotional meltdown. But this simply cannot stand:

    “I hold that Mr Carson would also oppose unlimited liabilty private factory owners as well.

    “In short that the talk of ‘corporations’ and the talk of ‘patents’ is just a diversion tactic.

    “It would be easy to refute me – all Mr Carson would have to do is to write in support of the various private factory owners who were not limited liability operations.”

    This is indicative of sloppy thinking. As you should surely know, since it was the central topic of our exchange in the “Contract Feudalism” debate, I do not regard third party limited liability and patents as the only forms of statist privilege that benefit employers. But I’m quite happy to “defend” all those factory owners who did not take advantage of not only limited liability and patents, but of Enclosures, the Combination Laws and Laws of Settlement, and enforcement of land titles derived from feudal conquest.

    Now, I hold that Mr. Marks would support drug laws and other restrictions on economic freedom favored by the Conservative Party. But it would be easy for him to refute me–all Mr. Marks would have to do is write, clearly and unequivocally, that he opposes all drug and other vice laws as illegitimate restrictions on economic freedom, and defends an absolute individual right to ingest whatever substances he chooses and to buy and sell such substances in market transactions with other willing parties.

  37. P.S. Mr. Marks is fond of the obnoxious tactic of speculating on what I “would” advocate, and then challenging me to deny it. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. So either put up or shut up.

    The corner into which Mr. Marks has backed himself should demonstrate, yet again, that in a battle of wits he is unarmed.

  38. The Conservative Party is by no stretch of the imagination a libertarian party.

    When we all get our heads around the idea that conservatism and libertarianism are entirely different things- as different as communism and conservatism- we may all start getting somewhere. Conservative parties on occasion may supply some liberal policies (generally in the matter of business, if generally a preference for corporatist rather than free market solutions), just as socialist parties may on occasion supply some liberal policies (generally in social or sexual matters, though generally to favour client groups). It is thus the case that, since we have only a choice of a conservative party and a socialist party, some persons of libertarian belief might join either one in the hope of some liberal advance.

    But conservative parties are not liberal parties, any more than the Liberal Party is, because conservatives are not liberals. So while it might be unwise for a libertarian to be a member of a conservative party, it is also at least equally unwise for a declared prominent libertarian to go around shouting that he is a conservative at every opportunity.

    There is no Quisling Right. The conservative right is not liberal/libertarian and has never pretended to be liberal/libertarian. It hasn’t betrayed anybody. It is what it is, which is conservative- that is, committed to a nineteenth century model of corporate philanthropic patronage.

    Libertarianism/liberalism is a distinct, radical philosophy. It is the least conservative philosophy there is. The man who has joined a Conservative Party in the hope of achieving some liberal progress is nowhere near as confused as the man who declares himself both libertarian and conservative, which is akin to declaring himself a christian buddhist.

  39. Carson says:

    “I’m quite happy to “defend” all those factory owners who did not take advantage of not only limited liability and patents, but of Enclosures, the Combination Laws and Laws of Settlement, and enforcement of land titles derived from feudal conquest.”

    IOW, Mr. Carson’s not willing to defend _any_ employers that have ever existed, as it’s literally impossible to find any that have never benefitted from anything the State’s ever done.

    Nor, for that matter, is it possible to find any employees who’ve never benefitted from anything the State’s ever done (such as compulsory unionization under the Wagner Act, for instance), either. Similar absurd arguments are made for reverse-racism about whites having historically benefitted from such policies as segregation and Apartheid – policies they may very well have opposed and helped to abolish.

    The problem with this type of argument is that it may be deployed to reach whatever result one wishes. For instance, it had previously occurred to me that I could’ve made a Carsonesque argument in favor of the acts of Parliament authorizing the land takings needed to build the railroads: Since the existing pattern of land distribution was the result of statism, those acts of Parliament could arguably have been deregulatory in nature, correcting the prior monopolization of land for the benefit of all. However, I realized that such an argument is completely unfalsifiable, so I did not make it. Carson, however, makes exactly the same sort of unfalsifiable arguments in favor of the proletariat and against the bourgeoisie.

  40. Ian B – I will, some time this year, make a defence of conservative-libertarianism. Needless to say, my definition of conservatism may not be that of any actually existing conservative party.

    Tim Starr – Your point about the possibly deregulatory nature of railway purchase acts sounds a very good one. I’d forgotten that, when not cheering on your country’s armed forces, you can be a most incisive critic. You’ve put into words one of my own reservations about left libertarianism, which includes some of Rothbard – if only justly-acquired property is legitimate, no property is secure. If – as I accept – Tesco is a creature of state privilege, surely shoplifting from Tesco cannot be wrong.

    I will try to ignore Paul Marks – if only because he has nothing to say. But I would be interested in any exploration of the points raised by Tim.

  41. I think the error with considering the railways to be creatures of state privelege due to compulsory purchases presumes that they could only have been built that way, and without that privelege no railways would exist. I would contend that in a free market, railways would be built through fair purchase of the land.

    Mining history for arguments about who got what how is a rats nest. We can certainly say that some people got a great deal by theft and violence, but it was a different world. That’s just how things were. We end up with trying to extract reparations from the Saxons.

    The libertarian approach, I would think, is that if we were to move to a libertarian, genuinely free society and abolish the privelege which currently exists then gradually the inequities would unravel towards a state where the starting advantages and disadvantages would be extinguished other than as things of interest to historians. People can make their fortunes these days without owning vast tracts of countryside, and the days of the captain of industry and his legion of effectively indentured serf-labourers are fast coming to an end- though that end is retarded by socialist and conservative attempts to maintain an economy based on “employment”.

    To return Tesco to the status of being mere greengrocers, as opposed to being partners in social governance or whatever, is all that is required.

  42. Carson would be on stronger grounds arguing that only those able to influence the State are able to enjoy the benefits of a relative absence of State interference with their activities, rather than trying to blame everything wrong with the present order upon whatever State activity can be connected with it at some time in the past. Influencing the State is expensive, and thus reserved to those sufficiently rich, strong, numerous, and well-organized to do so.

    In my view, the transition from feudalism to modern capitalism was in large part due to the interstitial rise of industry and commerce, which then enriched the new commercial and industrial class enough to make them first able to defend themselves against State encroachment then able to use the State to their benefit, and the detriment of their opponents. For instance, I see the anti-slavery movement as consisting largely of those who made their livings by peaceful trade with others, using the State to put those who made their livings by conquest and exploitation of human chattel out of business, partly out of sincere humanitarian concern and partly for the purpose of preventing slave labor from competing with free labor.

    This process originated in the countries with the most interstitial “space,” namely the Dutch Republic and England, then spread elsewhere from there. In countries with little interstitial space, the old feudal order saw the benefits of modern capitalism and imported it more selectively, under greater centralized control, thus attempting to have the “best” of both worlds – modern industry and commerce, under the firm control of a traditionalist authoritarian regime. Perhaps the clearest example of this would be the Second Reich.

  43. First of all I welcome Kevin Carson making my point for me.

    Yet again I offered him a chance to express moral support for private factory owners (or mine owners or farming estate owners or…..) who were NOT limited liability enterprises and did not profit from patent laws. And again he does not do so – even though I have (many times) suggested historical examples to him of people he could support.

    “There are many other statist privileges….”

    This is always the game (and it a game) that is going to be played. The bottom line is simple – private factory, and other such, owners (whether corporate or not) are always going to be oppsed by Kevin Carson – because that is his objective. He makes it quite obvious – and for that I am greatful.

    If it looks like a duck, and it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck – it is a duck (or at least is very likely to be a duck).

    That is why I say Kevin Carson is a Red. Because he uses arguments a Red would use for the objective (namely to undermine the moral right of private enterprise) a Red would use them for.

    That he does not call himself a Red and that he uses some of the language of libertarians use does not alter this situation.

    Sean Gabb.

    Dr Gabb brings up the fact that I called him a coward and a bully.

    This was done because, instead of replying to the specific points I had made (so many times) you instead quoted Conservative party rules and made threats against me – implying that you would report me to the Conservative party and also spread news of my evil opinions (some of which, such as supporting incest, of which I had never even heard) to “lots of people” who would be very interested to hear (no doubt local voters in Kettering).

    Making threats rather than replying to specific points is the mark of a coward and a bully.

    Therefore I called you a coward and a bully – because that is what you are.

    I could also have called you a “middle aged man” (like myself) it was descriptive. Although I fully admit it was not meant as a complement.

    In case you decide to act like an honourable man I will ask you about two points again:

    You stated that the prices of most goods and services sold by private companies were not a matter of the market – but were “administered” (i.e. dreamed up by some corporate manager on the basis of whim) instead.

    Do you really hold that opinion or is it just Kevin Cason nonsense?

    You also stated that there is “little competition” between companies.

    Again do you really hold that opinion or is it just Kevin Carson nonsense?

    Ian B.

    The Conservative Party does indeed not hold a libertarian ideology (or any ideology come to that).

    And I have often had disagreements with other party members for example on the membership of the European Union.

    Indeed I wrote that Britain should leave the European Union in a comment on the Conservative.home blog only the other day.

    Oh no – more stuff for Dr Sean Gabb to use to inform against me. Accept that being a sneak is rather pointless as I put my words on a Conservative website – so I guess they know about them without Sean Gabb being a clever informer.

    “No Paul I do not mean the Conservative party, which I agree has no fixed ideology, I mean conservatism and how hostile it is to libertarianism”. This may be a line of argument someone could use.

    Now there we may disagree.

    My opinions on political economy (and “social issues” come to that) are basically those of Edmund Burke.

    I was interested to find how much I agreed with him when I first read his works – and so studied him more, expecting (as with John Locke and others) to find great differences in due time.

    But I did not.

    Now was Edmund Burke a “conservative” or a “libertarian”?

    Surely if Edmund Burke is rejected as “unconservative” because of his libertarian opinions I am in good company if I am also rejected?

    Or perhaps “conservativism” (as a position in political philosophy) is not quite what people think it is.

    “You are going off on one of your flights of fancy Paul – how does this relate to Kevin Carson?”

    It is directly relevant – Kevin Carsonism (if I may use the term) is not compatible with Edmund Burke’s ideas at all.

    “Who cares?”

    Well it is also not compatible with even the anarchist Murry Rothbard either – for Rothbard put private property (including factories, mines, big farms and so on) at the very heart of his position.

    The private enterprises that Kevin Carson has dedicated his life to destroy.

  44. Paul Marks – I did say I would try not to reply to you. However, I will. I have no intention of reporting you to the Conservative Party. If you misrepresented your opinions in order to become a Tory Councillor, that is a matter for your own private conscience. I was more interested in your credentials as a libertarian. Since you will not come out of the closet and endorse a number of almost trite libertarian positions – relegalisation of all drugs, of incest between consenting adults, and of the right to keep and bear arms for self-defence, and repeal of the obscene publications laws – I deny that you have the slightest moral right to sneer at the libertarian credentials of others. You could give a straight answer to the questions that Kevin Carson and I both put to you. Instead, you choose to waffle on about Edmund Burke – a man whom I much admire, and who also wrote clear English when he wanted to explain his views.

    My refusal to answer your direct questions is based on modesty. I do not regard myself as an expert on the workings of the corporate economy. I am inclined to believe that Mr Carson is right about the lack of market behaviour within and between large corporations. But I was only summarising his arguments. If you want to criticise them, you should try reading his book, or asking him directly – he is rather busy, but might be willing to point you to a longer summary of his work than I have provided.

    In general, I do not despise people who have never written anything at length of their own, but instead criticise the work of others. After all, you don’t need to be a cobbler to know that a shoe pinches. What I do find contemptible is someone who has never written anything at length or of value, but who attacks the work of others, without having read it, and in a tone of the most arrogant superiority.

    I resent being called a coward and a bully not because – as you might claim to be the case – I am stung by the truth, but because you are talking manifest nonsense. When have I ever hung back from defending the rights of holocaust revisionists, sado-masochistic homosexuals or the preachers of Islamic fundamentalism? Perhaps I was wrong to believe in their right to freedom of speech and association. But it was hardly cowardly. As for being a bully, when have I ever done other than tolerate the most vicious attacks on me?

    If you define cowardice as a refusal to enter into the details of an argument on which I am not an expert, and bullying as holding you up to ridicule, go ahead with your shirll accusations. Otherwise, I leave the matter to the judgement of others.

    By the way, you claim not to know that incest was ever legal in England. Between consenting adults, it was not a criminal offence until the Punishment of Incest Act 1908. I wrote about this twenty years ago, and have been raising eyebrows ever since. Oh – and I do believe in the right of consenting blood relatives to have sex with each other and at least to enter into civil partnerships if that is what they desire. If anyone must wipe the vomit off his monitor after reading this, tough! As a libertarian, I take very seriously the injunction to be clear at all times.

    Now, I think this is the end of my dealings with you, Mr Marks. As said, I am much more interested in the points made by Ian B against me. I will reply to them when my new novel is finished. I am also very interested in the points made by Tim Starr. He has identified what may be an important flaw in the mutualist/left libertarian argument. He does so with evidence and argument – not with spiteful and embittered innuendo. I might also say that, while I have had the occasional flame war with Tim over Iraq etc, he has never been shy about telling the world what he really thinks.

  45. “I think the issue of limited liability, as Carson addresses it, is a mistake. So long as one knows one is dealing with a ll corp., then caveat emptor surely applies. ”

    I believe Kevin actually says in the book that he is sympathetic to the idea that limited liability and even corporate personhood could arise on a free market without government intervention or support. However, without government support the process would be less simple and effective.

  46. Tim: My point was less that private employers deserved some blanket condemnation than to suggest the sloppiness of Mr. Marks’ blanket “defense” of them. I do believe that there are net beneficiaries and net victims of state-enabled exploitation, and that small and medium-sized firms in the competitive sector are probably often net victims of the monopoly sector (considering the long hours many small business owners work, the “profits” on the enterprise are probably equivalent to a middling hourly wage).

    Re railroad land grants, I would point out that they involved the state preempting vacant land and then *preferentially* giving it to railroad promoters.

    The problem is exacerbated, first, by the fact that the grants were not simply of the actual rights of way necessary to build the railroads, but of wide tracts of land on either side which were intended as a source of railroad finance via real estate sales. From a Rothbardian perspective, this involved an impermissible state engrossment of vacant and unimproved land, and subsequent donation to favored clients who were then able to charge tribute from the rightful owners (i.e. those who first improved it). And this latter benefit, the financial returns from the sale of lands outside the right of way (not to mention direct state grants of money), was almost certainly necessary for railroads to be built at all, given the enormous capital outlays required to build them.

    Second, the railroads having been built with the help of these land grants and all the rest of it, the railroads immediately turned around and took advantage of their “turtle on a fencepost” position to engage in price discrimination with rebates. It’s much like the drug companies that get taxpayer R&D financing for half or more of the cost of developing new drugs, and then turn around and charge patent monopoly prices.

    Re Mr. Marks’ rambling claims that I have “shown my true colors,” it’s possible to turn the argument around on him. He regards the fact that most large corporate enterprises fall afoul of my free market analysis as evidence that I’m a closet “Red.” But the very fact that he treats as a shibboleth the percentage of private enterprises under actually existing capitalism that are considered be statist allies, indicates that he views free market principles as something to be applied in the ideological defense of the dominant economic interests under actually existing capitalism. That he yearns for an age when most libertarians didn’t believe in state capitalism or that most large corporations were part of a corporate-state nexus, but sat around over brandy and cigars lamenting the proliferation of welfare moms and commiserating with big business as an “oppressed minority,” speaks volumes about him. No doubt if he’d been around a thousand or two thousand years ago he’d have been in the employ of the feudal nobility defending their Lockean “property rights” to the rents from a million souls on their land, or of some Roman senator defending his slave-worked latifundium as “free enterprise,” and treating anyone who regarded a majority of feudal landlords or latifundists as illegitimate in free market terms as a “Red.” Mr. Marks is not a principled free market advocate, but an ideological shill for the privileged–and not even a very good one.

  47. Yes, many of the Federally-subsidized late 19th-century railroads in America behaved badly, as Carson describes. However, Henry Hill’s Great Northern Railroad was not subsidized, and did not behave badly.

    Furthermore, land grants were made to railroads in America because they were made through undeveloped land, and it was known that development would be necessary in order for the railroads to be profitable. However, there were no such Federal land grants prior to the American civil war, but there were many profitable railroads in America before the civil war (some of which enjoyed subsidies from the states, but some did not). Furthermore, canals and railways in Britain usually did not get land grants as they were not run through unowned land. Rather, they had forced purchase laws (rather like our eminent domain laws) which didn’t necessarily get the builders access to public funds but merely neutralized holdouts. For instance, the Bridgewater Canal built this way; one of the main holdouts was a large landowner and member of the nobility who didn’t want the canal disrupting his hunting grounds – surely just the sort of privileged member of the existing order you don’t wish to defend. (The Bridgewater canal was never nationalized, and remains privately-owned to this day.)

    Returning to the American railroads, it makes no more sense to say that the railroads unjustly acquired wealth from those who first developed the land along their routes than it does to say that those developers unfairly acquired wealth from the railroads whose transport made those lands more profitable for development in the first place. Your conclusion is based upon the labor theory of property-acquisition, which is rather self-evidently absurd upon examination, no matter who supported it.

    Additionally, the American federally-subsidized railroads were often failures, thus disproving your claim that subsidized projects will always outcompete un-subsidized ones.

  48. But I haven’t argued that no railroads would have existed absent state subsidies–only that there wouldn’t have been a national system of trunk lines on anywhere near the scale or volume that came about with state subsidies. Lewis Mumford’s description of the early railroads as primarily “eotechnic” systems linking local economies together is relevant, I think.

    I’m familiar with arguments made on behalf of Hill and the Great Northern; he may have done it without money subsidies, but I doubt he did it without grants of rights-of-way and other land grants.

    Re the labor standard for acquiring unowned property, that’s a matter of first principle on which we must simply agree to disagree. But I can’t see any moral justification for fencing off unused and undeveloped land and regulating access to it, any more than there’s a moral justification for a Pope allocating “property” in the Western hemisphere to Spain and Portugal by drawing a line across the map.

  49. Carson: You don’t seem to be all that familiar with the Great Northern Railway, as your take on it is contrary to the facts. It essentially was a large-scale trunk line for the entire northern midwest and west of the USA, covering 1,700 miles, from St. Pail to Seattle, with many branches.

    Moreover, while Hill started by taking over a subsidized railroad which had failed, he eschewed all subsidies, even land grants, ever after.

    As for marking off unowned land and preventing its use, I’m not sure what you would recognize as a moral justification for that. The main reason why someone would do that is that they believe the land would be more valuable unused than used, perhaps because it would be more valuable in the future, or because they’re simply not ready to start using it.

    It’s also unclear what you count as “use.” My family owns some forest land which we’re not currently using (we hope to be able to afford to build a vacation home on it someday), and some other forest land which we don’t use except for hunting, fishing, and just enough logging to pay for the property taxes. However, we’d be well within our rights to forcibly evict any squatters who tried to start farming it.

  50. So it seems the existence of a long-distance trunk line was indeed a legacy benefit of land grants.

    I can’t see a moral justification for recognizing the boundary markers set by someone who fences off land with no intention of using it in the near future, when the supply of land is finite.

    You’re entirely correct to raise the questions of how much admixture of labor is required for land appropriation, and what level of use defines ownership, with labor appropriation. A considerable amount of convention is involved. But that doesn’t mean it’s entirely arbitrary. Two considerations come into play, in particular, in settling the practical questions. The first is Rothbard’s “relevant technological unit,” i.e. the amount of land required for a particular purpose given the predominant methods in use at the time; the other is Per Bylund’s idea that the same land can be homesteaded for particular purposes by different people.

  51. My specific questions have not been answered.

    I will repeat them.

    The claim was made that most prices for the goods and services sold by private companies are not the result of the market (i.e. the civil interactions of buyers and sellers), but are “administered” (i.e. dreamed up by evil corporate managers).

    Is this really the opinion of Sean Gabb – or is it just Kevin Carson nonsense?

    And the claim has been made that there is “little competition” generally between companies.

    Is this really the opinion of Sean Gabb – or is it just Kevin Carson nonsense?

    Instead there are efforts to change the subject to “incest” (and other stuff). I have often wondered why Sean Gabb presents pro freedom ideas (although I really never have come upon the incest stuff before – perhaps I should have read his writings rather than just listened to him in conversation or on the radio) is a way that hardly anyone could support them.

    I am not thinking of sex stuff (and so on). I am thinking of things like traffic – for example, instead of saying “the rules governing how a road is used should be up to owner of the road”, Dr Gabb is more likely to say something like – someone should be allowed to use drugs, get behind the wheel of a car and drive it up the wrong side of the road at 100 miles per hour.

    Presented like that no one (who was not barking mad) could support liberty.

    Perhaps it is a David Hume style love of using language to “prove” the absurd . For example that there was no such thing as the “I” – that human beings were not “beings” at all, that they were not beings/agents, that human agency/free will does not exist, i.e. that a person has no more moral importance than a clock work mouse and to talk of the freedom of a person (or rather the flesh robots who are falsely called persons – there being no subject/ object distinction) makes no more sense than to talk of the freedom of a clockwork mouse – and has, therefore, no moral importance.

    But David Hume was a philosopher – most likely (I hope) seeking to wake up sleepy heards by challenging what they just assumed to be true, but had never thought about deeply. David Hume was not really a political activist – I am not saying he should have been of course.

    For a political activist to present the case for greater liberty in a way that can only lead to people thinking that liberty is absurd (and worse), makes no sense to me. And it has never made sense to me – my opinion of this sort of thing was no different at the age of 15 than it is at the age of 43 (44 next week).

    As for slavery – I have written on this suject many times over the years. I have always been opposed to it (alth0ugh I can not claim to have thought up any legal arguments that were not well known to Salmon P. Chase – or even to the Roman lawyers who admitted that slavery was against what the called the “natural law” although they, tragically, tried to justify enforcing it on the grounds that it was allowed by “the law of all nations” so Rome would be at a disadvantage if it did not enforce the practice).

    On Kevin Carson:

    “There are many other statist privileges” is, in this case, a way of saying “I can always find an excuse to do what I want to do anyway”, namely to plunder private property.

    No matter what the time and place in history large scale private enterprise would always be opposed by Kevin Carson – I am not getting that “off the top of my head” but from his repeated refusal to take any of the opportunities I have give him (over years) to support large scale private enterprise.

    So the stuff about limited libility (the basis of churches, secular societies, charities, fraternities, cooperatives and so on, as well as limited companies, do not forget) and the stuff about patents, and the stuff about land is just a series of excuses – and an intelligent man like Kevin Carson will always be able to find some excuse or other for what he wants to do.

    David Hume may not have been making a dogmatic case (as his followers assume, on the other hand I hope that David Hume was just trying to make people think more deeply about their motivations by shocking them, not a tactic I like but one that could be argued for) when he claimed that “reason is the slave of the passions” (i.e. that people just use their reason to find reasons to support or do what they want to support or do anyway), but in the case of Kevin Carson, Hume has a point.

    The passion is opposition to large scale private property (in whatever time and place) and the “reason” is just a series of excuses (this time 600 pages long it seems) for plunder.

  52. In case anyone thinks I am obsessed with economics and history (for which, I confess, I sometimes give evidence that I might be) to the exclusion of the philosophical foundations of liberty.

    The philosophical foundation for supporting liberty is that human beings are just that. “Beings” – agents, that we can choose – that we can make a choice between good and evil.

    It is not the case for liberty that the choice is easy, or that there are no genetic and environmental pressures upon us. Or even that we will always choose well (I know from my own sins that this is not the case).

    The case for liberty (indeed that liberty exists at all) is that we can choose – that we are fundementally different from clock work mice (or from trees or lakes, or mountains, ……) that we are beings (sentient). In short, human.

    And that it is, therefore, wrong (for example) to imprison us if we have committed no crime – whereas it is not wrong to imprison a clock work mouse.

    “Is from an ought” – yes, but I have no problem with that.

    I do not regard morality (including justice – i.e. the nonaggression princple of non violating the bodies and goods of others) as a matter for long “argument” or “justification”.

    If someone says that it is morally good to rape, murder or plunder others they are just wrong (period). Of course they should be allowed to say such things – but if they try and DO them they should be punished.

    Common Sense (from Thomas Reid, and before, onwards) or the Oxford realism of such people as Harold Prichard and Sir William David Ross.

    Although this does not mean that I do not also have great respect for the Aristotelian tradition.

    Critics of all the above fall, I suspect, into two groups.

    One, of whom David Hume is chief, want to shock us into thinking deeply about things that we take for granted (the existance of good and evil, the existance of the material universe, and even our own existance as reasoning agents). Such people mean no harm – quite the contrary.

    But there is another group who really do seek to undermine belief in basic metaphysical principles (and I must stress by “metaphysical” I do not mean “supernatural” – an athiest can be a just and honourable person). The Logical Positivists are a good example of this latter (vile) group of people.

    See C.E.M Joad’s “A Critique of Logical Positivism” (London, Victor Gollancz, 1950) for a critical account of their doctrines.

  53. In response to Sean Gabb point about me “misrepresenting” my opinions. I have never done so to anyone.

    For example, (as I have already stated) I have always been open about my belief that Britain should leave the European Union. And I am fully aware that this is not the policy of the Conservative party- it is my (and others) task to try and convice people to make it the policy of the Conservative party in the future.

    “But what about domestic policy” – for example I have long been very vocal in saying government spending was out of control. And I was saying (and writing) this at the time it was Conservative party policy to match the planned spending increases of the Labour government.

    Far from misreprersenting my opinion – I stated it as clearly as I could (“with your use of language that would not be very clear” – might be Dr Gabb’s reply to that) very many times indeed.

    In fact I was called a “bore” on the subject. Yet that policy has now changed – although I am not claiming that my banging on about the issue had anything to do with the change of policy (the change in policy was caused by the financial crises).

    Therefore I think it is time for Dr Gabb to formally apologize to me for claiming that I hid dissent from Conservative party policy – when in fact, I was very open about it (see above).

  54. Mr Marks – Be glad you are not one of my students. Hand in an essay filled with that rambling stuff about David Hume and Aristotle, and you’d get it straight back covered in red ink. It makes no relevant point. It seems intended to hide feeble powers of analysis behind a show of learning.

    Your third post about your opinions would disgrace a teenage Toryboy. I never asked you about the European Union or government spending. Let me ask again:

    Do you believe in the relegalisation of all recreational drugs?

    Do you believe in the repeal of the obscene publication laws?

    Do you believe in the relegalisation of incest between consenting adults?

    Do you believe in the repeal of every Firearms Act made since 1920?

    There is no shame in answering “no” to any of these questions. However, your refusal to give a straight answer suggests either that you do not agree with fairly mainstream libertarian positions, or that you are keeping quiet for the sake of your relationship with the Conservative Party. In either case, you have no right to judge the libertarian credentials of anyone else.

    You could win this argument very easily. All you need do is copy and paste the above questions into your next comment. You then follow each with a single word answer. If you answer “yes” to all of them, you establish that you do have a moral right to judge other libertarians, and you prove that you are not hiding your real opinions from the Conservative Party. If you answer “no” to any of them, you do not establish your moral right to judge other libertarians, but you still prove that you are not hiding your real opinions from the Conservative Party.

    Come on, let’s have some straight answers.

  55. Carson: No, “a long-distance trunk line” was _not_ “a legacy benefit of land grants.” Prior to Hill, the railroads he took over (many of whose lines he had to scrap entirely due to their shoddy construction and inefficient routes) did not cross the Continental Divide. He extended it through the Rockies, and even integrated his operations with an overseas shipping operation to export his customers’ goods.

    As for land use:

    1) The folks at disagree that land is finite, and are figuring out how to produce more of it. The UAE’s Palm Island is an already-existing example of this in practice (although the UAE is much farther from libertopia than it’s often made out to be).

    2) Population density in the Americas, Africa, and Australasia is quite low, making for no significiant effect of land finitude upon anyone’s income opportunities. Indeed, some of the most prosperous places on earth have much higher population density, such as Japan, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, etc.

    3) Many land uses are simply incompatible. To the extent that they are compatible, a single owner has economic incentives to rent out their land to others who may wish to use them for compatible purposes. This is already done, as by farmers who allow hunters to hunt in their fields, or who allow wind turbines to be set up among their crops.

    4) Nature preserves are one obvious reason to avoid land “use” in the near term. Lumber companies typically allow their tree farms to re-grow for decades prior to harvesting them again. Meanwhile, they aren’t “using” that land in the sense of turning it into present production.

    4) Witholding land from present use is a form of saving. Your preference is to sacrifice the assets of those who save for the present consumption of those who do not wish to save. There is no principled reason to restrict this to the ownership of natural resources alone. Why not extend it to all capital? Is it not also finite? Why not extend it to labor? After all, leisure time is merely “unused labor,” and one of the main arguments for slavery was that slaves would simply waste away their lives if not forced to produce. Your distinction between natural resource ownership and all other ownership is arbitrary, and your principle logically implies the redistribution of resources from saving to consumption.

  56. Thanks for the information concerning the Great Northern, Tim. But even stipulating that an individual could do it that way, I still strongly suspect that Hill was an outlier and there would have been a lot fewer and lower capacity trunklines if their creation had depended on such individuals without government subsidies.

    As for the creation of land, I’ve seen arguments before that seasteading projects, multi-story buildings, etc., amount to the production of new land. But I think Henry George’s classical use of terminology was correct. The land, strictly speaking, is original spatial locations which are provided gratis by nature. These sites vary in how much labor and capital must be applied to make them usable; and the marginal cost in labor and capital required for making land usable is the basis of the law of Ricardian rent. The marginal cost of the “new land” on the hundredth floor of a skyscraper is a lot higher than the original marginal cost of the surface area on which the structure was built, and the rent on it will accordingly be higher; and it becomes profitable to apply capital to land in this way to make it usable only when land within the margin has already been occupied.

  57. Dr Gabb – calling what I say “rambleing” does not refute it.

    Actually I doubt that you are pro liberty even in the most basic sense of believing that it is even possible. In short I doubt that you believe human beings are agents – i.e. that they are “beings” at all.

    However, I accept that you might be a follower of David Hume in the way I mentioned above – i.e. trying to “wake up sleepy heads” by challenging what people take for granted (even our very existance as reasoning agents) rather than actually trying to undermine humanity.

    By the way why should I give you “straight” replies – when you have not given them to the questions I ASKED FIRST.

    But if you insist on talking about sex matters – O.K.

    I have opposed party policy on some of the sex agenda.

    For example, some years ago (I was not a councillor at the time) the then leader of the Conservative group on the Council was reading out some Central Office stuff about how we had to “promote alternative lifestyles”.

    I argued that it should not be our policy to use taxpayers money to promote homosexual acts – I was told (and still am) that this was old fashioned “Clause 28” thinking on my part.

    However, I still hold this opinion. Report me if you so wish to do so – I think you will find the Conservative party already know.

    As for sex matters generally – I do not wish to get into position that Mary Whitehouse found herself in. The very fact that I have to now say “of course I do not share her opinions” shows what an unpleasent experience she had.

    Savage mockery and abuse from the entire establishement (year after year) – including even radio show named in mockery of her (“The Mary Whitehouse Experience”) that Mrs Whitehouse was forced to pay for via the television tax.

    Still I have an apology to make.

    I have often thought you a coward – “going with the flow” in supporting various sex stuff in the hopes of profiting from your support (getting invited on radio shows and so on – whereas you would not be so invited to speak against the Bank of England or anything that I happen to be interested in).

    “Sex sells – and it makes him seem radical to the (degenerate) establishement, so Sean concentrates on it”.

    That was my opinion – but it no longer is.

    Mr Clarke told me some things yesterday that, I have to admit, required real courage on your part.

    So I withdraw (and apologize for) my claim in previous comments that you are a coward.

    As for my own opinions of “sex, drugs and rock and roll” I have said (so many times) that there was less of it about before the government started to take an interest, and that I support the view of Gladstone and others that it is not from the state that we should expect moral improvement.

    Although, I must confess, I had some desire for a law against pop music on a trip to Stamford yesterday – whereever I went there was the sound of it and the sight of its supporters. Young people “pretending to be orcs” as a friend I was with put it.

    Of course that is not a serious opinion of mine (it was an feeling – but it did give me an insight in to how people could have other feelings).

  58. As for Kevin Carson:

    The mistake is still being made – I do not attack anyone for making the mistake (I made it myself for years), but it is a mistake.

    Challenging him over the Great Northern of J.J. Hill (or over anything) is a total waste of time.

    It as pointless as to argue about the Norman Conquest (pointing out that hardly any free holds go back to the Norma Conquest now) or over Iceland or over anything else.

    The basic mistake (which I repeat I made for a long time myself) is to think that some special thing (be it limited liabilty or whatever) makes Mr Carson hostile to large scale private property – and to concentrate on this special thing.

    However, the hostility to large scale private property is not based on some special thing – or even on a group of special things.

  59. Still I repeat that the two basic claims mentioned in the review are false.

    It is not the case that most prices charged for goods and services by private companes are not a market matter but are simply dreamed up by evil corporates “administered prices”.

    There are prices that are “administered” – but these are a small minority of prices and the administers are the government.

    Nor is it the case there is “little competition” in the general economy between companies.

    Not only is this a false claim – it is an utterly absurd claim.

    And it is claim that plays (and is meant to play) into the hands of the left.

  60. The mistake you made, Mr. Marks, was to repeatedly speculate on my motives and attempt to catechise me on my beliefs, while being too damn thick-headed to anticipate that your tactics might be turned around on you. I’ve given straight answers on this thread, while you’ve weaseled around and managed to conceal less meaning in more verbiage than Sarah Palin.

    If you’re going to behave as a “bully and a coward,” to use your own apt phrase, you ought to be able to think a couple of moves ahead. But after demanding an answer to your question about my political views, you have responded to Sean’s point-blank questions like a deer in the headlights, hemming and hawing and evading. Still no straight answer–just evasion and defensiveness concealed behind a screen of feigned moral outrage.

    I repeat, put up or shut up.

    For months and months, you have speculated on what my opinions on this or that thing would be, in the tones of a prosecutor, and demanded that I prove you wrong. Now the tables are turned, and you are stammering worse than Ralph Kramden as “Chef of the Future.”

    If you will not give a straight answer regarding your views on drugs, your best move is to slink away and hope we’ll eventually forget what a despicable, cowardly little worm you are.

  61. Kevin Carson – why should I give a “straight reply” to questions framed in such a way that such a “straight reply” (WHICH EVER WAY I JUMPED) could only cause me harm. “Giving ammunition to the ememy” does not profit me. Particularly as the questions I asked (which I asked FIRST) never got a “straight reply”.

    I am interested in the things that I am interested in – I know perfectly well the “Do not think of an elephant” book style effort of changing the subject (or the “frame of reference”) to stuff other people are interested in. And I see no reason to play into that trap.

    Also what have these questions that I am asked got to do with your efforts to undermine support for large scale private property?

    I am hardly an “apologist for the status que” as I repeatedly argue for the radical reduction in the size of government (I am even against the Bank of England – which makes me even against the status que that was established in the 1690’s).

    As for corporations – I have repeatedly said that I am against Captial Gains Tax and Inheritance Tax, and the other things that have gradually taken the ownership of corporations away from individuals towards (instead) institutional investors. Remember even when I was born most shares were owned by private individuals – now it is only a small fraction.

    I am also against all the statutes and regulations in the United States that have undermined share owner power and boosted that of corporate managers.

    I would abolish all these anti share owner regulations tomorrow (indeed today).

    But you are not really interested in the above. It is hardly “speculation about your motives” to say that whatever the time and place you would be against large scale private property.

    It is not “speculation” because you have made it obvious (time and time again).

    Why bother to write about you at all – is it not “shrill”?

    Actually I would not write about you – even if you called yourself a libertarian (after all you would not be the first far leftist to do so).

    What attracted my attention was how your stuff was pushed at a Libertarian Alliance conference (years ago) and is still being pushed.

    Actually I came upon it again at the Samizdata blog.

    I do not ask you to “shut up” – but I do ask you and your friends to keep out of my way. I do not have a big role (for example comparing the number of people I reach to the number of people someone like Glenn Beck reaches is like comparing a mountain to a molehill – and I am not the mountain), but I do what I can to oppose the left.

    If someone called a “libertarian” wishes to help in the fight against out of control government, good (the side I am on needs all the help we can get) but if not, they can stay out of the way and do not make things even more difficult.

    Presenting the case for greater liberty in a way that hardly anyone could support it (indeed in a way that seems designed to make people think the case is barking mad) is not helpful – quite the contrary.

    But you do not even do that (that is what certain other people do – with, for example, the stuff about allowing people to use drugs and drive on the wrong side of the road at 100 miles per hour).

    What you do is even worse – you attack the moral basis of large scale private property whilst (at the same time) waving the flag of “libertarianism”.

    This “false flagism” may have a long history (it was a tactic of the old Russian security service and it was a tatic taken over by the Soviets – see “The Trust” of the 1920s). But that does not mean I have to like it – or that my calling it what it is, can be correctly described as “shrill”.

    By the way if the Sean Gabb really is interested in making the public more (as opposed to less) supportive of the case against interventionism what has he done to promote such books as Thomas Sowell’s (non Austrian School) “Housing: Boom and Bust” or Thomas Woods’ (Austrian School) “Meltdown”?

    These are the two works that most directly deal with the current crises.

    They are the most “imporant” pro liberty books of this time. And Sean Gabb has many contacts that I do not – he could do some good. Do something useful – to help the general public understand that the current crises is not caused by “capitalism” and that higher government spending (and so on) is going to make things worse, not better.

    Instead we get the promotion of your book.

  62. Hmm. Not so long ago, one might imagine somebody saying,

    “legalise sodomy?

    Are you people for real, or is this some kind of elaborate group joke?”

  63. You are right Ian B.

    In fact Edmund Burke got into a lot of trouble just suggesting some mitigations in the punishments for sodomy. Although the only time I have been directly involved in legal disputes on this matter is when I stated my opinion that the Supreme Court of the United States had no right to strike down the Texas sodomy statute.

    I still believe that the Supreme Court had no such right – although I would have voted to repeal the Statute if I had been a member of the Texas leglislature.

    I hope that is a “straight” enough reply for people. Although, most likely, they will say I am contradicting myself.

    The fact that I am uninterested by a lot of this stuff does not mean that other people should not be interested in these areas of law.

    My reason for getting interested in politics (as a boy) was the threat I believed there was to large scale property (and thus to civilization), in short “I hated Kevin Carson before he was born” (assuming he is younger than I am) or “it is nothing personal”.

    Other people have other reasons for getting interested in politics – other things that interest them.

    If I was not so tunnel visioned I might have more respect for the interests of others. Perhaps if the great threat (the threat of statism that has already taken over about half the entire economy in government spending and distorts the rest with credit money and regulations) went away I would redirect my attentions (although, I admit, it is more likely, that I would lose interest in politics).

    As it is my objectives are to stand for the side that holds that human beings are individual moral agents (i.e. that we can choose between good and evil) and that statism undermines respect for this defining feature of our humanity. And (related) to play my small (very small) part in resisting state intervention.

    Now it could be that if statism did not exist (or was say 10% of the economy rather than about 50%) lots of small business enterprises would replace (over time) large business enterprises.

    I do not know. It is not a question that particularly interests me.

    What matters to me is to drive back statism – and let human beings work and trade as they can. What the results of that would be I leave to others.

    Anyway, my objective is to play what part I can in maximising the number of people who support the side of greater liberty. And I dislike those who word things in such a way that I think will minimise the number of people who support the side of greater liberty.

    For example, instead of saying “the rules of using a road would be best decided by the owner of the road” saying “people should be allowed to take drugs and drive down the side of the road at 100 miles per hour”.

    Although I fully accept that what the above really means is “I dislike people who do not word things the way I want them to be worded” which is unjust of me.

  64. It’s funny, Mr. Marks, that you now claim I never gave you a straight answer, because when I responded to your questions earlier you thanked me for “making your points for you.” The only logical interpretation of that latter phrase is that you regarded my answer as giving you the rope you needed to hang me, or demonstrating myself to be “guilty as charged.” I believe I made it clear that I would not “defend” factory owners as such, but would defend those who could not be found to be net beneficiaries of statist privilege. It may or may not have been the answer you desired, but it was a straight answer and my genuine opinion.

    Once again, here’s the situation: You made personal insinuations to the effect that I was concealing my real agenda, and challenged me to prove you wrong by answering your questions. Sean turned the tables on you, and apparently you were too dim-witted to anticipate the possibility. Even after I answered your question, you continued to hem and haw and dance around the issue with lame excuses about “handing your enemies ammunition”–even though that’s what you demanded of me.

    I would also mention that the “bullying” tactic Sean used against you, challenging you to answer a question in response to your own demand, might have been borrowed from Jesus Christ. “Answer me this, and I will tell you by what right I do these things.”

    I do give you credit for finally admitting you’d have voted to repeal the sodomy statute in Texas, which is the first thing approaching a straight answer you’ve given. Now all you have to do is answer, yes or no, whether you’d support the repeal of drug laws in the UK, and we can call you an honest man.

    As for “attack[ing] the moral basis of large scale private property whilst (at the same time) waving the flag of ‘libertarianism’,” here’s a quote from that notorious false flag operator Ludwig von Mises:

    Nowhere and at no time has the large scale ownership of land come into being through the working of economic forces in the market. It is the result of military and political effort. Founded by violence, it has been upheld by violence and by that alone. As soon as the latifundia are drawn into the sphere of market transactions they begin to crumble, until at last they disappear completely. Neither at their formation nor in their maintenance have economic causes operated. The great landed fortunes did not arise through the economic superiority of large scale ownership, but through violent annexation outside the area of trade. “And they covet the fields” complains the prophet Micah, “and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away.” Thus comes into existence the property of those who, in the words of Isaiah, “join house to house . . . lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth”.

    Come to think of it, it seems Micah and Isaiah were false flag operators as well.

    Once again, you demonstrate that your goal is to defend, not libertarian principles as such, but to defend “large scale private property” without regard to questions of justice in acquisition, and to bend and distort free market principles so as to justify the owners of actually existing concentrations of “large scale private property” in the service of your landed paymasters.

    Rather than defending free market principles for their own sake, whether established interests stand or fall in the face of free market analysis in a given case, you defend established interests for their own sake and do violence to free market principles to make your favored interests come out on top. You clearly care nothing for the free market as such, but only for defending established property interests by hook or by crook. You’d defend the “large scale private property” of King David against Uriah the Hittite, and that of Ahab against Naboth.

    It is you, in other words, who are the false flag operator.

  65. Carson:

    1) Evidently von Mises never heard of the King Ranch, of Texas – a large-scale land holding that was acquired by strictly economic activity.

    2) Discovery and security costs for initial land acquisition can often be quite high. These costs are often not taken into account by those making your sort of arguments against large-scale land ownership. In cases of landfill, swamp drainage, or offshore platforms, the marginal cost of the first floor may very well be a great deal higher than the marginal cost of additional floors/stories.

    3) Since there are such things as just wars, for Mises to say that all large-scale land ownership resulted from violence is not to say that violence was necessarily unjust.

    Taking points 2 and 3 above into account, it would follow naturally that land whose discovery and security required a high concentration of capital and labor to acquire would also tend to be owned on a large scale, at least initially.

  66. Gabb, I just want to know what is your view on worker cooperatives and self-managed enterprises, and its treatment by Kevin Carson.

  67. King Ranch, according to Wikipedia, is not a single contiguous tract of land, so I’m not sure it would meet Mises’ criteria. And the article isn’t clear on how the land was acquired; given our disagreement over what is a legitimate means of acquiring unowned land, I’m also not sure your criteria for “economic” acquisition are compatible with mine. The article is unclear, in particular, on the history of the land before King acquired it from the heirs of Juan Mendiola, the role of Spanish and Mexican land grants in the latter’s ownership, whether the land might have been worked for Mendiola by people who would have been considered the legitimate homesteaders by Rothbardian labor homesteading criteria, the possible presence of Indians whose tribal tenure rights were ignored by land grants, and so forth.

    Your costs of discovery and development of “free land” fall under the headings, in Ricardian-Georgist terms, of capital and labor. The greater the initial costs of making a surface level location usable, the less favorably situated/less fertile it is for the purposes of the Ricardian law of differential rent.

    I think we’ve established in the past that there’s an unbrigeable gap between your ideas of just war and mine. And in what I would regard as a legitimate war of territorial self-defense, I’m guessing I would regard it as far less likely than you do that large tracts of new territory would be acquired. And the passage of (say) former Spanish crown lands and Mexican federal lands into the U.S. public domain, and the latter’s subsequent regulation of homesteading, is certainly problematic for me.

  68. I think we’ve established in the past that there’s an unbrigeable gap between your ideas of just war and mine.

    Then you need to go deeper and debate the axioms upon which those ideas are based.

    If you believe there’s an objective Truth out there that can be discerned, a search down the decision tree until the source of disagreement will resolve the disagreement. If you don’t believe there’s an objective Truth out there, there’s no point arguing nor writing books, since any point of view you promote is entirely arbitrary. You may as well declare that all the land in the world belongs to Mr Reginald Posner of 74 Gasworks Street Swindon, since this would be as true as anything else.

    Economics purports to make true statements about the world. If this is the case, any disagreements can be resolved. If it isn’t true, then you’re wasting your time. Go and do some gardening or watch a movie or something.

  69. The problem is, Ian, there’s a lot of “Objective Truth” out there, and a limited amount of time, and allowing the agenda for which ones to investigate to be set by questions raised by other people would turn polemical writing for blog comment threads and email lists into a full-time job. I really don’t want this thread to turn into a Vietnam-style quagmire where Tim and I are still engaged in a dick-waving contest two hundred posts from now, both obsessively seeking the last word.

  70. Carson:

    1) Mises’ quote says nothing about large landholdings being contiguous, and many large feudal landholdings were discontiguous. Thus, this criteria is an irrelevancy introduced by you to dismiss contrary evidence. The King Ranch was purchased entirely on the free market, regardless of who had previously owned it or how it had been acquired.

    2) Your speculative title-search into who might’ve previously had some just claim upon the land, either Indians or hispanics, is just the sort of attempt to de-legitimize all property rights that I have been criticizing all along. There is not a single land title in the world that is pure by your standard, thus no obligation for anyone to respect anyone else’s property rights. In all likelihood, any Indians who lived on that land were almost entirely wiped out by European epidemic disease, like 90% of the pre-Columbian population of the Americas (and if they were anything like the Apaches, one of their main activities was aggressive war upon other tribes for profit), and the King family hired an entire village of hispanics to work their land; presumably they would hired any pre-existing inhabitants of the land.

    3) Land that cannot be secured is worthless; land that cannot be discovered or reached is worthless. Land rent is a function of these investments of labor and capital.

    4) I’ve no idea what notion of just war you adhere to, but seriously doubt that it has ever been practiced by anyone in the real world, much less any prior inhabitants of the King Ranch. Nevertheless, if you admit that there can be such a thing as just war, then you must admit the possibility of just acquition of territory by violent means.

  71. Victor L – I think the Kevin Carson view of worker cooperatives is that they would be the normal form of joint extended enterprise in a free society. I think there would still be much more room for nearly conventional employer-employee relationships. One of the functions of a legitimate entrepreneur is to look for market opportunities, and to risk money on organising land, labour and capital for a return that may be some way off. There is no reason why cooperatives shouldn’t also be just as enterprising. But I believe in addition that there are many people who would rather take orders in return for a safe monthly pay cheque.

    This being so, cooperatives might not be the dominant form of enterprise. However, I certainly have no objection to them. I wrote a pamphlet against them for the Conservative Party back in 1983. I no longer have a copy, but my argument was based on the assumption that cooperatives would be run by Trotskyites as if they were a permanent students union meeting, would be a permanent drain on the tazpayers, and would form part of the Labour Party’s client base. I think this was the case with some of the coooperatives set up in the 1970s.

    In a free society, though, I rather hope there would be a vast network of syndicalist utopias and other experiments in worker control. And I hope and believe that many of these would be successful according to the criteria of those involved in them.

    Personally, I’ve tried regular employment, and haven’t liked it. While, as said, some people will choose it before the alternatives, it isn’t something I would recommend.

    My own preference is for working as a sole trader. But except there would be no room for joint stock limited liability corporations, a free market has plenty of room for whatever forms of enterprise consenting adults may desire.

  72. Kevin Carson I did not mean to accuse you of not giving me a straight reply – you have been very clear in your hostility to large scale private property (limited liability or non limited liablilty) and in whatever time and place.

    My comment was about Sean Gabb – asking me sex questions (i.e. the “Do not think of an elephant” book tactic of trying to change the subject) when he had not first given me straight replies to my questions. Which were:

    Do you really believe that most prices charged by private companies are not the result of the market, but are “admistered” (i.e. just dreamed up by evil corporate managers) – or is this just Kevin Carson nonsense?


    Do you really believe that that there is “little competition” between most companies – or is this just Kevin Carson nonsense?

    As for the latest above comments:

    I again point out that denoucing limited liability is just a dodge.

    And an odd one to play – considering limited liability (let us please not play the diversion game of confusing the principle of limited liability with any particular statute) is the basis of churches, charities (including athiest ones) and COOPERATIVES.

    It is a bit odd to say “I am in favour of coops” and then denounce the very thing they are based on. How far a coop could get if every member was like a Lloyds “hame”, with nothing protected from commercial and tort action claims on the coop. By the way this would also have the knock on effect of destroying trade unions (although I might not burst into tears over that one).

    Still let that go – even if I accepted the case against limited liability (the principle – I am not talking about any particular stature, please see the Roman burial club memorial in York Minster , that club was not created by any 19th century statute) it would leave aside the most important things.

    Take the example of my home town – Kettering, Northamptonshire.

    Do not take now (a time of a massive state) – take the late 19th century.

    Kettering was a small government place back then – the people of the town even voted against an Education Board (it only came what it was forced on the town after the 1891 Act – I can cite statutes as well).

    Now some of the factories in the town were limited liability concerns (as the coop was also) and some were not.

    Does ANYONE think that Kevin Carson would have been any less hostile to the factory owners who were not limited liability enterprises than he would be to the enterprises who were limited liability?

    It is a dodge, a diversion tactic – and an obvious one.

    I even know what other tricks would be played.

    “You bought this land from someone who bought it from someone who…………. [many jumps later] got it from the Norman Conquest”

    And so on and so on. It is absurd – and as Kevin Carson is a very intelligent man I must assume he knows it is absurd.

    By the way quoting Ludwig Von Mises (the great defender of private factory owners and so on) in such a way as to suggest that he was hostile to them, is not nice (for the record Mises was doing one of his “I am a utilitarian, I am not interested in natural rights” things – very fashionable with people from all political points of view in the Vienna he was educated in – especially with people who were law students).

    Still “all is fair in politics” they say. Although Ludwig Von Mises would have done a lot more than “use red ink” (to take an example from Sean Gabb) on someone who, for example, supports credit money expansion – as Kevin Carson does.

    On False Flagism:

    Go into to a book store in the United States (or check on Amazon) and leading pro freedom books are there and selling very well.

    Thomas Sowell’s (non Austrian school) “Housing: Boom and Bust”, Thomas Woods (Austrian School) Meltdown, Glenn Beck’s “Common Sense”………

    And so on and so on. There are many such works.

    The movement for smaller government in the United States is a live movement – out trying to convince the general public.

    The movement in Britain is a movement that seems either dead or asleep – there is nothing much going on and has not been for decades. The Libertarian Alliance has made no real effort to reach out to people about stuff that matters (rather than, for example, whether incest should be a matter for the 1909 statute or should be covered under Common Law) – there is no great defence of free enterprise (indeed even the privitizations of the 1980’s are denounced as “phony” rather than the position being that they were good, but would have been better if there had not been regulation) and no denoucing of the credit money expansion of the Bank of England over recent years.

    I used to think this utter failure was just incompetance (for which I must take some of the blame – after all I used to go to meetings and conferences and so on). However, I have slowly come to the conclusion that it is not just incompetance.

    Say someone believed that all large scale private property (limited liability or not) was evil – why would that person be interested in defending it against the growing government?

    Why would they even be interested in debating the left – when, on this most basic principle, they agreed with the left.

    It should be obvious that I am not thinking of Kevin Carson here (he does not have the direct power over Libertarian Alliance affairs) I am thinking of people he has influenced – such as Sean Gabb.

    This is why such things as the Libertarian Alliance have been basically taking a rest from the great debate of our time in recent years – because key people (such as yourself Sean) have come to agree with the enemy on the most basic point – the point about large scale private property. And, therefore, (quite logically – I admit that) do not oppose the left on this most basic point. The point upon which the future existance or collapse of civilization rests. And, again please, let us not pretend that civilization can go back to a pre industrial stage (and even in that stage England depended on large farming estates – things Kevin Carson likes no better than he does factories).

    Perhaps “False Flagism” was too harsh as it implies dishonesty – but the basic point is valid.

    What should be a leading group opposing the left and supporting books such as those of Sowell and Woods that I mention above (indeed writing its own books on the British angle in all this) is nothing of the kind.

    In the great crises of our age it is of no help at all. To be fair, it can be no help at all – if its leading members are to be true to what they now believe. But that does not alter the fact that pro free market people are wasting their time by having anything to do with the L.A. now.

    A point against myself (for example the time I have spent writing these comments) of course – but there we go.

    Hopefully things like the Samizdata blog are doing some good and will do more over time (in promoting real free market books for example), we shall have to see. But so much time has been wasted on old tactics and organizations – by me as much as by anyone else.

  73. Many thanks for your answer, Sean.

    I agree with Kevin in this issue, but i respect your opinion.

    Your preference for sole traders makes me suspect you are a romantic who, as an english historian, desires to return to the times of anglos and saxons, when peasants owned bocklands and craftmen worked in small scale factories, rather than to desire a working class empowerment as a whole, like Kevin Carson.

    Although the two views are compatible.


  74. I don’t think in terms of empowering the working class. What I want is to live in a world where individuals have as much control over their own lives as possible. These two things may mean the same. But we are from different traditions that haven’t yet merged.

  75. To be fair to Sean Gabb – a “sole trader” can be a very large operation.

    In what I wrote above I pointed out that in the late 19th century (indeed later than that) some of the factories in Kettering were not limited liability operations. In short Sean Gabb (unlike Kevin Carson on this point) would not have been their enemy.

    That is a difference in their positions that I should have made clear – and did not (for that I apologize).

    Indeed if one defines “sole trader” as one person owning 100% of an enterprise one could even claim that the Ford Motor Company in the 1930’s was a “sole trader” as Henry Ford (tired of being taken to court by minority shareholders) had bought out all other share owners.

    I think what Sean is saying (on this point) is “Henry Ford should have taken the final step and formally renounced limited liability – thus getting rid of the legal division between his personal assets and those of the enterprise he owned 100% of the shares of”.

    Whilst that would have run the risk of Henry Ford being reduced to a begger in the street if things went wrong with the Ford Motor company I think (in that time and place – although not generally) I would have agreed with Sean Gabb.

    There is a special reason for this – the Ford Motor company was under massive attack from the Feds (via their proxy the United Auto Workers union), and had the company “gone private” (i.e. just been people working for Henry Ford – no longer been the “Ford Motor Company”) the legal position would have been better for the struggle.

    World War II (when the government ended the attack by withdrawing the backing for the U.A.W.) obscured the basic point that Henry Ford LOST the struggle in the 1930’s. He accepted collective bargaining and the rest of the principles the U.A.W. was demanding – and slowly but surely this loss has undermined the company over the following decades. As it has so much else of manufacturing industry (and not just in the car industry).

    He should have gone the other way – gone private (yes risking being reduced to being a begger on the street) to have a better chance of keeping control of his own enterprise.

    Although, I admit, it is less difficult to advise someone else to do that than to do it oneself – I doubt I would have had the courage.

    Of course a Man of Kent (as Sean Gabb is) can hardly accept the “Norman Conquest” point either. As Kent did not have “Norman land law” till the 1920’s .

    Nor is it just Kent – a Saxon family lost their estate in Staffs (which they had held since clearing the land of wolves) only last year. Losing an estate that had been held in spite of more than a thousands years of trials and tribulations (losing it due to failed business deal) – still “Man is as wolf to man”, as the family motto puts it.

    But Kevin Carson would simply move the position from the Norman Conquest to the invasions of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, or to the pre Roman Celtic migrations (or whatever).

    Of course the genetic markers for (for example) the people in the Cheddar Gorge area of Somerset show that the local farmers (who are free holders) are the same stock as bodies discoved in the area that are five thousand years old.

    But I am sure that Kevin Carson would find a way round that one – perhaps that the farmers only deserve the value of the “improvment to the land” rather than the land itself.

    As for “empowering the working class”:

    The “Middletown” studies (undertaken by two socialist, indeed Marxist influenced, sociologists – so hardly people with a free market bias) show that real American workers reject this stuff.

    And I think there are still more people in that town in Indiana on the private property side of the great struggle of our time than there are on the “empowering the working class” side.

    And if almost total leftist control of the media (everything from the nightly news to Hollywood movies) for decades has not changed the basic values of Americans (after all even Barack Obama has to hide what he is – rather than boast about it), they are not going to change in this.

    Look at the book sales – far more people are buying the pro free market books, than are buyng the collectivist ones.

  76. Of course the real failure of the left is not collapsing Hollywood and declining newspapers and television networks – it is the education system.

    Almost total control of the schools and colleges (for example with Bill Ayers “social justice” stuff being the texts in the teacher training colleges) and most people come out of school and, even, college still knowing (in their gut) that this Progressive stuff is nonsense.

    That is one of the two reasons that, in the end, the left are going to lose.

    The other reason is the Ludwig I-do-not-care-about-this-abstract -right-and-wrong-stuff Von Mises one (although I believe that Mises contradicted his formal position with his own life – a life in which a passionate commitment to personal honour rather went against his formal utilitarianism).

    The leftist economics does not work. More Progressive intervention (more social justice, such as the Community Reinvestment Act and so on and so son) just makes worse the terrible things that Progressive interventions created in the first place.

    Eventually people understand (for example) not only that the person they elected to “get government spending under control” has vastly increased government spending, but also that the increases have made things worse.

    Then they start to ask other questions – for example if he really values “charity – helping others” why he gave hardly any of his own (large) income to charity before he started to run for President.

    The cover up and agit-prop campaign by the mainstream media (and the education system) is going to break down.

  77. The “point” is not complex.

    Kevin Carson is a leftist – he is not just against corporations (which are NOT a 19th century invention by the way) he is against large scale property owning by individuals also.

    Mr Carson made that quite clear when (in a previous exchange with me) he started attacking rich 19th century guys and girls (AS A CLASS – not just saying “I dislike some of them) citing (as justification) various snobbish things some of them had said.

    The targets WERE NOT CORPORATE MANAGERS – they were just rich people.

    Whether in a few page pamphlet or a several hundred page book, Mr Carson’s target is the same undermine-the-rich, turn-people-against-them, promise-people-a-lot-of-BS-about-they-can-all-have-control-of-large-factories……..

    And so on.

    Now I have no brief for rich people – I am not rich, and (for example) a lot of the billionaries turned out to be Obama supporters (paying for the rope that will……?), but that does not mean I am going to fall for this “mutualist” nonsense.

    More importantly it is not just Kevin Carson, he could not do much harm on his own.

    It is Dr Sean “red ink” Gabb – “man of the right”, has been pushing Carson’s works for years now.

    I think it is rather important that a top person in the “Libertarian Alliance” is pushing leftist stuff.

    Of course there are also such things as Dr Sean Gabb’s philosophical determinism (i.e. the doctrine that human beings do not make real choices – indeed are not “beings” at all, that people are just machines incapable of agency/freedom) and his previous cooperation with Islamist regimes such as that of the Sudan.

    But pushing Kevin Carson’s work is the last straw.

  78. The BBC has been for some time pushing “the complete Smiley” – i.e. broadcasting on radio (and advertising – hard) a series of spy novels.

    In the best known of the series of books George Smiley is brought back to the service to hunt down a traitor. Many years (indeed decades now) ago (when the BBC were broadcasting the story on television) a man told me “of course the traitor is Smiley himself”.

    And that was years before the author of the books came out as a leftist.

    No doubt various people think what I have just written is “off the point” also.

  79. I think the problem is that it is all too easy for disapproval of the behaviour of corporations- political manipulation, rent seeking, regulatory capture &c &c tips easily over into leftist-style anti-corporatism. I think that many libertarians- and I would imagine this includes Paul above- think that a true free market would have more opportunities for small and smaller businesses; that is the economy would have more (genuine) diversity. There would be fewer entry barriers, and it would be easier for individuals to start small businesses and stay small if they so desire.

    But it is moonbattery to think that big businesses are inherently evil, or that we could do without large scale enterprise. Extraction of coal and oil, manufacturing steel girders, microprocessors or rocket ships- the myriad advanced industries on which we depend- are not and cannot be cottage industries.

    Sean said at one point- “There is little evidence that large factories are more efficient than small factories.”

    This is palpable nonsense and shows a worrying lack of understanding of manufacturing economics. Economies of scale are not an artificial “corporate” scam, they are a law of nature, or of economics anyway. We have access to a vast range of cheap products precisely because of the specialisation of production.

    This mutualist stuff falls into the diastrous autarkic fallacy (which often interestingly enough rears its head also among libertarians dreaming of libertarian villages at sea or on the moon). A village of a thousand people- even if they were all master engineers and phds, with all the world’s knowledge at their fingertips, could not rise much above a mediaval level of technology. The could not fabricate microprocessors, or televisions, and even a steam engine would be a major economic project for them.

    Big business as a lobby often behaves appallingly badly. But that is not a reason to denounce the concept of big businesses. Everyone under the current corporatist structure behaves badly. If we want to live at a modern standard of living, we have to get used to the idea that much of it will be supplied by “corporations” of some form or another; just because there really are practical, and inescapable, economic benefits to the large scale of the small.

  80. Um, I did not “attack rich 19th century guys and girls… citing (as justification) various snobbish things some of them had said.”

    I cited explicit calls by rich guys and gals, during the period of enclosure, for the state to expropriate the land of the laboring classes in order to reduce their bargaining power and force them to accept wage work on whatever terms were offered. I also cited a long history of land expropriations which served to create a wage labor market on a much larger scale than otherwise would have existed, along with numerous other police state controls on freedom of movement and association by the working class.

    As usual, Mr. Marks shows he can’t grasp the point of an argument, even with velcro mittens on.

  81. I have a problem with that narrative regarding land expropriations, Kevin.

    Nobody I think would disagree that there has been in western countries considerable and often very nasty land expropriations. The question though is whether in the long run much would have been different; that is, whether as you imply the “wage labour market” is artificial. It’s an appealing idea; that without land expropriations we’d all be happy smallholders, but is it true?

    ISTM that land concentrations occur in two ways; either special interests use state coercion to forcibly take the land from individuals, or else a free market situation in which efficient, growing farms knock small inefficient farms out of business, then buy the land from them, occurs. Either way, you end up with a few large landholders with efficient land use, and the majority heading off to seek a wage somewhere else in the economy. If neither occurs and the land remains in the hands of smallholders, you get third world perpetual poverty, because subsistence farming is inefficient.

    We wouldn’t be living anywhere near as well as we do if we’d all stayed on the land. So I’m not sure the question of how most of us lost it is really the important issue. In the long run we all ended up wealthier precisely because we did. That the government stole it directly via enclosure acts, for instance, probably left us little worse off than if we’d been starved into selling it for a pittance by market forces.

  82. Iain: For the most part, I believe the concentration of landholdings into large farms has led to efficiencies in terms of output per unit of labor and capital, but has in fact led to reduced efficiency in output per acre. In other words, it has led to a tradeoff of increased and decreased efficiencies, based on the specific economic interests of the class that did the expropriating. Had production remained mostly small-scale peasant cultivation, the choice would likely have been to maximize efficiency in terms of output per acre, through the raised bed techniques and other intensive methods that are incredibly efficient in use of land compared to mechanized row-cropping.

  83. I know what you wrote Kevin – and it was NOT just about enclosure.

    By the way you oppose private large scale farms in counties that did NOT have an enclosure movement at the time, such as Essex or Dr Gabb’s own Kent (0r many others) , just as much as you oppose large scale farms it counties that did have an enclosure movement (such as my county of Northamptonshire – the only country in England where the majority of land was enclosed in the 18th and 19th centuries).

    In short – please stop the B.S.

    You oppose large scale private farms – because you oppose large scale private farms (it is nothing to with enclosure).

    As for your pretend economic argument in reply to Ian.

    It is, of course, utterly contemptable. If peasant plots really were more efficient (or even equally efficient) then the large scale farms of New Zealand and so on would be broken up into peasant plots by the free market (i.e. by voluntary, profit seeking, action) – they are not, because peasant plots are less efficient (as you know perfectly well). And it is not just in livestock farming – it is in arable farming also.

    Of course you make similar ( false – and you know they are false) claims about manufacturing also.

  84. I suspected that what Carson meant by the greater efficiency of small plots was output per acre. However, I fail to see what makes that the best efficiency metric in this context. His admission that large-scale farming is more efficient when measures as output per unit of labor/capital strikes me as a backwards compliment to the efficiency of large-scale farming.

    The fact that large-scale farming seems to have predominated everywhere the market was free enough to permit that to happen, regardless of whether there was land expropriation or not (viz. the King Ranch, which I’ve already mentioned), indicates to me that the greater efficiency came first, which was then used to justify expropriation to greater or lesser extents depending on where and when it was done. And, of course, the more it was done, the less efficient it was. E.g., Soviet agriculture (which was greatly inspired by the King Ranch) was completely expropriated, and highly inefficient.

    And, of course, as indicated by the liquidation of the kulaks and absentee landlords in other agricultural collectivizations, the victims of land expropriations were often “rich peasants” or members of the aristocracy. They weren’t always the poorest of peasants.

  85. Before anyone points it out – yes I know there is still an example of non enclosed farming in Leicestershire.

    If they want to farm in strips and so on – fair enough.

    Fortunately much land in England was never farmed that way – and some land that was farmed in that peasant plot way switched (although only in Northamptonshire was the majority of land switched compulsorially in the two centuries of first the agricultural and then industrial revolution).

    Almost needless to say, a return to farming by peasant plot (which, if we mean strips and stuff, would not be a “return” in areas of England that never had this form of farming) would mean mass starvation – not just in Britain, but on a world wide scale.

    Just as taking factories out of private ownership (by individuals and companies) would mean the, eventual, breakdown of industrial production and the society it created.

    I repeat that Kevin Carson can say what he likes – there have always been leftists (i.e. people hostile to large scale private property – in farming, industry or both) .

    What is important about this case is the sickness that it exposes at the heart of the “Libertarian Alliance”. The L.A. should not be about promoting leftist stuff.

  86. Even in my previous comment here, I did not say it was “just about Enclosure.” Even in my comment here, I mentioned other issues besides Enclosure.

    And your argument that if small-scale production were really more efficient it would outcompete large-scale production ignores the minor issue of subsidies and government favoritism to large-scale production.

    In other words, you once again reveal your own powers of reading comprehension and argumentation to be utterly contemptible.

    Every time you crawl out from under your rock, you further humiliate yourself.

  87. Kevin your policies would lead to mass starvation – but then that is not news to you.

    However, I thank you for admitting that you oppose large scalre private farming – whether the land was enclosed or NOT.

    As for subsidies and other government interventions – they are just as likely to be made in for peasant plots (for example the endless “land reforms” in Latin America and other places, and the restrictions and taxes on imports to protect European and other producers) as not.

    Of course the example I gave (New Zealand) has no real government subsidies for farming. And if it were more efficient for farms to be broken up into peasant plots they would be – but then you know that as well.

    You are driven by hatred of large scale private property and the fact that your policies would lead to both the, eventual, breakdown of industrial society and mass starvation does not bother you.

    Time for you to get back under your rock Kevin.

  88. Kevin, consider two countries A and B. In country A, 5% of the population produce all the country’s food on large farms. In country B, 95% of the population are peasant farmers. Which of these countries will have the wealthier economy?

    It should be fairly simple to grasp that Country A has 95% of its citizens available to produce goods other than food, whereas Country B has only 5% available to produce other goods. Country A’s economy will thus represent far more production and diversity of production. Is this not obvious? Who wants to live in a country almost exclusively consisting of peasant farmers?

    Something non-free marketeers consistently fail to grasp is that disemployment in one industry is an opportunity for those workers to go and make other products. Of course, it is distressing to be disemployed, but that doesn’t alter the fact that it is ultimately a benefit to everyone. The only reason that there is labour available to manufacture the computers upon which we are typing these messages is that most of our ancestors, for whatever reasons, stopped working on the land.

    There simply isn’t any justification for supporting peasantry over large scale enterprise. It is useful to criticise big business when it manipulates the state- as it frequently does- but the basic idea of mass production is fundamentally sound. A factory churning out microwave ovens day and night can make them far more cheaply than I can on the workbench in me garidge. That is simply irrefutable.

  89. > Kevin your policies would lead to mass starvation – but then that is not news to you.

    Since I have argued that small-scale production results in greater output per acre, it’s hard to see how it would result in mass starvation. And most sane people would expect such an accusation about my “real” ulterior motives to be backed up by something besides the voices in Paul Marks’ head.

    > However, I thank you for admitting that you oppose large scalre private farming – whether the land was enclosed or NOT.

    Please read my actual post at 7:53pm Dec. 8. Besides enclosure, I mentioned other forms of land expropriation via nullification of customary land tenure, and state controls on freedom of movement and association. So I do indeed object to large-scale farming when it results from state robbery and coercion. I stand convicted.

    > As for subsidies and other government interventions – they are just as likely to be made in for peasant plots (for example the endless “land reforms” in Latin America and other places, and the restrictions and taxes on imports to protect European and other producers) as not.

    That government interventions are “just as likely” to benefit small operators is an assertion that can be borne out–or not–by empirical data. Seems pretty counterintuitive to me. Subsidized irrigation water, subsidized long-distance shipping, and government payments to hold land out of use all tend to favor large operators. And state-subsidized R&D in biotechnology tends to develop technologies that favor large operators. As for land reforms, which simply nullify state-granted titles to privileged classes in favor of the rightful first modifiers of a tract of land, if you regard that as a “subsidy” it’s just another indication of your own incoherence.

    > Of course the example I gave (New Zealand) has no real government subsidies for farming. And if it were more efficient for farms to be broken up into peasant plots they would be – but then you know that as well.

    Ah, more assertions about what “I know.” That RFID chip in your head must really come in handy.

    > You are driven by hatred of large scale private property and the fact that your policies would lead to both the, eventual, breakdown of industrial society and mass starvation does not > bother you.

    Yet again more weird, paranoid assertions about my “real motivations.” Since a major part of my rccent writing has concerned low-overhead micromanufacturing, it should be obvious I disagree with you. But then that’s what you’d expect me to say. My “real motivations” only come out in my meetings with the Elders of Zion, beneath the Utah salt flats.

    Once again, you reveal yourself to be utterly incapable of reading for content, a liar, or a fucking nutjob–or some combination of the three.

  90. Tim Starr – you are making a mistake that I made years ago.

    I got (unasked for) a Kevin Carson pamphlet in a Libertarian Alliance conference pack.

    I thought it was a mistake – but then I found that everyone had got one, and that the pamphlet had been published by the Libertarian Alliance.

    So I made the mistake of going through the thing line by line – and writing up the results. In my stupidity I still thought that some sort of mistake had been made and people did not know what they were pushing.

    Then I got the replies.

    These days Kevin and myself just exchange insults every so often – which is much better for us both.

    As for the “kulacks” – well Kevin would support their removal if they owned large farms and/or employed hired labour.

    He might not support shooting them – but then they mostly were not shot anyway. They starved to death – as did many millions of people who they had “exploited”.

    By the way – in this scheme I would be a “henchman of the kulacks” in that I own nothing much, but in my wickedness (not even false consciousness – as the creed has been explained to me many times) I choose to side with them anyway.

    So it would be nine grammes of lead for me – unless I got to deliver them first.

    But that is fine – at least I know where I stand with people like Kevin.

  91. For me, I think the most significant point is that all the “market failures” that you learn about in undergrad economics – monopoly, demerit goods, public goods, externalities – are red herrings, and that even economies of scale are, to a certain extent, illusory. I’ve worked for big companies before – the waste and underemployment of individual potential is unbelievable.

    While I agree that factories would produce these better than in individual in his garage, the point here is these can be automated factories, meaning we’re not chaining a bunch of people to miserable serfdom. We’ve got machines doing it instead.

    And yes, we really ought to get apples from our own country. Importing them from Chile is ringing alarm bells. It can only be red tape and the bargaining power of favoured supermarkets that prevents a more realistic form of trade from happening.

    In fact reading this made me realise that economics, as a discipline, would not even exist but for statism. After all, under freedom what more would there be to say but – people do what they like to pay their way to a fun lifestyle? It’s difficult to envision what a truly free society would look like but, as Bob Black says, I’m for full lives not full employment.

    I don’t really care if Carson was a leftist – all I know is that reading this review made a penny drop somewhere. And I come from a very laissez-faire place. If big corporations would not come about spontaneously in a free-market zone then I would have to say that they are evil, or at least symptomatic of it.

  92. I’ve worked for big companies before – the waste and underemployment of individual potential is unbelievable.

    Haven’t we all? Two points; firstly it’s often hard to tell what is really inefficient inside an organisation. Managers may make decisions one disagrees with, but they have a different perspective to that of the worker. How do you come to an objective analysis of “waste of potential”? Maybe those potentia are no use to the company. When I was working as a maintenance engineer for instance, my considerable artistic skills were entirely ignored by the company. The bastards. Heh.

    The other point is that companies have limits on their inefficiences, because if they multiply too much, the company fails. So either the company keeps them under control, or it goes bust. Of course it’s now de rigeur to demand a bailout, but that’s a problem we all recognise in our increasingly corporatist state, not an inherent problem with large enterprise.

    While I agree that factories would produce these better than in individual in his garage, the point here is these can be automated factories, meaning we’re not chaining a bunch of people to miserable serfdom. We’ve got machines doing it instead.

    Wonderful. Maybe we can do that in the future. Businesses have generally needed large amounts of labour, though. They didn’t do it just to enserf people, they did it because they needed workers. Labour is a cost. Every big business wants to cut its workforce. The reason they have employed many people is because they had no choice in the matter, since a certain quantity of labour was required to manufacture their products.

    And yes, we really ought to get apples from our own country.

    Why? This is the voice of autarky speaking. Autarky doesn’t work. Fascism is invariably autarkic, which is why it has to be imperialist, because it can’t trade for what it needs internationally.

    Importing them from Chile is ringing alarm bells.


    It can only be red tape and the bargaining power of favoured supermarkets that prevents a more realistic form of trade from happening.

    You’re making the simplification error common in economics, of presuming that one apple is much the same as another apple. Maybe Chilean varieties taste better, maybe their produced more efficiently, maybe they’re available off-season. We’re buying Chilean apples because the full calculation of value favours them to some other apple, for that particular transaction. And who is this “we” of which you speak?

    In fact reading this made me realise that economics, as a discipline, would not even exist but for statism. After all, under freedom what more would there be to say but – people do what they like to pay their way to a fun lifestyle? It’s difficult to envision what a truly free society would look like but, as Bob Black says, I’m for full lives not full employment.

    Economics would still exist as the study of how markets work, because knowing how markets work is useful information. Of course economists as philosopher kings would not exist. It’s the same difference as that between climatologists as studiers of the science of climate, and climatologists as makers of environmental policy.

    all I know is that reading this review made a penny drop somewhere.

    Your penny may have dropped inappropriately.

    If big corporations would not come about spontaneously in a free-market zone then I would have to say that they are evil, or at least symptomatic of it.

    Except that large enterprises in some form would have to exist, because large things need to be done, which require large amounts of investment and labour. One bloke on a peasant plot cannot build and launch a communications satellite, fabricate microprocessors or build a bridge across the Thames. A truly free market may have different looking business structures- I’m sure it would- but the basic model of massed labour hiring itself to some enterprise would certainly exist. The major difference I would perceive would be that rather than “employers” and “employees” everyone would be “freelance”, that is, everyone would be a business, and employment would be entirely replaced by subcontracting.

    But the basic principle is simply- I need 2 guys to help me harvest my densely-packed vegetables, so I offer them some money to help me, and they choose to accept and, for that purpose, agree to follow my orders. There’s nothing wrong with that. Labour is a product to be traded, just like goods. You can’t escape that, however hard you try.

  93. When I was working as a maintenance engineer for instance, my considerable artistic skills were entirely ignored by the company.

    The difference is being the chooser and the chosen. You’re an artist now, right? If it were (much) easier to set up your own hobby or talent as a little business or freelance contract thing, then mindsets would hopefully shift so that everyone does it. Rather than going, “oh bugger it let’s just work for this monolith over here. It’s just easier.” The education system plays a role here, obviously (yes, I read your “Down with Skool” post!).

    The other point is that companies have limits on their inefficiences, because if they multiply too much, the company fails.
    Well I don’t know. As pointed out before, big companies are good at “reducing overheads” ie cutting people, but as for being good at identifying and eliminating inefficiencies, I simply don’t believe it. Any business is, in essence, not supposed to last very long. Products quickly get supplanted with new ones. And large corporations are excessively bad at innovation – even Peter Drucker recognised this, and he had a lot of love for corporations like IBM and GM. Big companies just stumble on because they form a mutually profitable union with the government, or ruling class, or whatever.

    Businesses have generally needed large amounts of labour, though. They didn’t do it just to enserf people, they did it because they needed workers.

    Yep. I just think that “free” factories would be far smaller and less shitty than ones that exist where corporations are given all these incentives to get bigger and bigger.

    Fascism is invariably autarkic, which is why it has to be imperialist, because it can’t trade for what it needs internationally.

    No – fascism can be, and is becoming, global. Autarky just means you don’t trade outside your borders. What with the EU, UN, WTO, WHO, Copenhagen Conference etc it seems that fascism is fine with foreign trade. On rigged terms, obviously.

    Maybe Chilean varieties taste better, maybe their produced more efficiently, maybe they’re available off-season. We’re buying Chilean apples because the full calculation of value favours them to some other apple, for that particular transaction. And who is this “we” of which you speak?

    The “we” is British people, who have lots of apples growing in our backyards! I’m well acquainted with comparative advantage, but I agree with the comments above to the effect that I find it hard to believe that , once transport costs are taken into account (which are subsidised by the taxpayer at different stages and in various ways), apples are “cheaper” for any given quality from far-flung places like that. It should be fairly easy to come up with figures for this, but I haven’t seen any (at least, none that I would trust).

    Economics would still exist as the study of how markets work, because knowing how markets work is useful information. Of course economists as philosopher kings would not exist. It’s the same difference as that between climatologists as studiers of the science of climate, and climatologists as makers of environmental policy.

    I guess you’ve not studied economics at uni but I can tell you that it’s a mixture of Keynesianism (ie bollocks) with a reluctant nod to Classical stuff. (They almost entirely ignore Austrian economics). Macroeconomics is a fraud from start to finish. Microeconomics is mostly pointless – a mishmash of commonsensical ideas dressed up in technical terms. OK fine read Adam Smith but that is Political Economy. What you’re studying is politics, pure and simple.
    Markets work how they work. It’s just people, doing their thing. Go ahead and study the psychology of the stock market and things like that – but that’s not “economics” the way it’s currently regarded.

    The major difference I would perceive would be that rather than “employers” and “employees” everyone would be “freelance”, that is, everyone would be a business, and employment would be entirely replaced by subcontracting.

    Yes, and that’s not a trivial difference. Especially if the large company does not have non-liability status. But that, I suppose, is another story.

  94. Iain: I don’t really think the difference in labor efficiency is all that much. The efficiencies of large-scale mechanized production are probably considerable at the point of production, but I suspect they’re offset to some extent by the massively increased capital and labor expenditures required for auxiliary functions of distribution and marketing in a centralized system. It’s analogous to Sloanist industry’s “efficiencies” from maximizing the “efficiency” of each step in production, taken in isolation, by using the most expensive product-specific machinery they can. Those effiiciencies are MORE than offset by the enormous inventory costs that result when each machine is run full speed to maximize ROI on that machine in isolation, without regard to production flow, and the entire factory is run at full speed and “sells to inventory” to minimize unit costs–along with all the costs of push distribution that result when production is not regulated by demand, and the long-distance shipping costs that result from large market areas.

    And the problem now is that the people evicted from the land, who would have been able at least to keep themselves fed, are unable to buy the more “efficient” cheap food at any price because they’re squatting in shantytowns with no source of income.

    In any case, the lack of Enclosures and other expropriations wouldn’t have ruled out a more gradual and partial voluntary shift of part of the peasantry into other occupations. And it wouldn’t have ruled out a majority of the peasantry staying on the land and reducing the total hours required to supply subsistence needs as they adopted more efficient intensive methods, shifting part of the saved time to supplemental labor in industry (on their terms, since with access to their own land they’d have the option of refusal).

    Finally, arguing that the land would be used more efficiently by those who stole it is the same argument used to support eminent domain in the U.S.

  95. The peak census for people working on the land in England and Wales was 1851.

    The number of people working in farming did NOT fall during the agricultural and industrial revolutions. Factory workers tended to be those children who would not have survived in the preindustrial age – not people “driven off the land”.

    As for better farming methods – they depended on the strip system of farming (and so on) being abandoned. Otherwise the ideas of Townsend and so on would have been fruitless.

    Fortunatly much of England and Wales did not have a strip system of farming (and so on) – and those areas that did have the “open field system” (most noteably my own county of Northamptonshire) moved away from it.

    It is true that the poet John Clare was upset about this – but he was insane. Kevin Carson does not have that excuse.

    It is also true in the context of other countries.

    The most obvious example is that of Russia.

    The Russian Empire had more good farming land (even in proportion to population) than any other nation in Europe, but was often on the verge of starvation in the 19th century.

    This was because of the Mir system of semi communal farming. It did not operate everywhere (the Free Peasants of the North and so on and so on tended to reject it).

    However, even after the end of serfdom in 1861 the semi communal pesant plot system still dominated much of Russia.

    Only by allowing individual peasants to break with this system (to form their own farms by opting out of the Mir system) and to have true individual ownership of rarms could Russia be fed.

    Only by fairly large privately owned farms – with hired labour if need be.

    This Stolypin allowed in the 1900’s – but tragically his policy was cut short by World War and Revolution.

    Interestingly British farming (which had been hit hard by imports in the late 19th century) also recoverd in the 1900’s – but then was hit by World War One and its after effects.

    The post war world was a cruel one for Britsh farming – and it led to the legend that British farming can only survive with government subsidies (which came in with World War II).

  96. Almost needles to say – communal farming was NOT broken up in the United States (by eminant domain or other such).

    There was a bit of strip farming in Massachusetts in the 17th century – but such “Personalist” experiments (it one wants to call them that) collapsed. As did Robert Owen inspired experiments in the 19th century (one was near the present city of Dallas – and many of the craftsmen from the failed experiment moved to the new city and helped it develop).

    If anything the Federal government followed a policy of promoting farms that were much too small (this ideolgy can be seen as far back as the North West Ordinance of Thomas Jefferson).

    The “homestead” policy was especially wrong headed in the relatively dry areas of the West – which would have been much better as large scale cattle ranches.

    Sadly even the dust bowls of the 1930’s do not seem to have taught the Feds this point.

    Of course these days Federal subsidies may actually favour farms that are too large (rather than two small).

    The only way to find out is to end all government subsidies and see what happens.

    However, the point remains valid that even a supporter of John Clare of Northamptonshire can not support a peasant plot system for the United States – because these was not one (other than for a little while in part of Mass).

    Of course to support the end of large scale private farming in the modern world would be to doom the great majority of people on Earth to death by starvation.

  97. Almost (but not quite) needless to say.

    I totally oppose government bailouts for big companies (or for small companies, or for cooperatives) and I fully support people being able to sell apples they grow in their back gardens.

    Although I doubt the Herefordshire cider I drink is made from apples grown on that scale.

    Things change over time – as people come up with new ideas, or try old ones again (either try them differently or hope that changing circumstances will mean that the consequences will be different).

    One experiment I am interested in is the English whiskey idea (no I am not making that up – people really are trying it again, after more than a century).

    Sadly the level of general taxation and regulation in this country makes the chances of any new enterprise difficult.

    On transport costs – they do matter, but other things can negate them (at least for a time).

    A classic example of this would be the Lancashire cotton industry. The whole idea of importing raw cotton thousands of miles and then reexporting cotton products thousands of miles seems insane – but it worked for centuries.

    The business situation of an industry can be counter intuitive. Even in the United States the main cotton mills were in the north (in New England and so on) far away from the cotton fields – this only changed over time.

  98. Ian B. is correct – diseconomies of scale are a fact.

    For example the very first company I looked after as a Security Guard (many years ago) was “Habitat” – a company that made and sold furniture.

    If there was slight imperfection on a piece of furniture (or even if it got dirty somehow) the piece was taken away at put in a different area.

    But no one cared about that area of the factory – and so the things put there got worse and worse (rather than restored or sold as seconds) till they ended up in the compactor.

    “If only T.C. knew” was the refrain (speaking of the founder of the company) “but things have got too big for him and he is not really in control anymore”.

    A classic example of diseconomies of scale – in relation to management and control.

    What the optimum size for a company is can only be found by allowing the market to operate (and understanding that perfection is not to be had in this life – just finding ways to make things that bit better).

    Shall we say it together “competition is a discovery procedure”.

  99. Paul: The Russian example occurred to me, too, as it provides a good example of a case where communal peasant farming survived into the 20th century, after serfdom’s abolition. Of course, the result was one of the most inefficient farming systems in Europe, and one of Europe’s most undeveloped countries at the time (although late-Tsarist Russia had been growing quickly, thanks to the beginnings of industrialization).

    It also occurred to me that much of the workforce for the Industrial Revolution in the UK came from population growth, not expulsion of peasants from the land.

  100. “The L.A. should not be about promoting leftist stuff.”

    If the ‘leftist stuff’ leads to increased individual freedom and well-being, while the “rightist stuff’ leads to serfdom, the L.A. will promote leftist stuff insofar as it exists to promote individual and well-being.

    This should be obvious (but there is oftentimes more to the obvious than is obvious).

    If the Mondragon cooperatives have over 65,000 participants in over 200 coops, and if their audited return on capital is twice that of Spanish investor-owned businesses, the advocates of crony-capitalism have some explaining to do. Most people in the UK are in jobs they don’t like (according to surveys). The advocates of “Capitalism” should abandon their myth-making about their being scientific.

    Neo-Classical Economics is incapable of novel prediction. Truly scientific theories have to be descriptive, explanative and predictive. Only in this way can a theory be scientific, capable of being falsified and thus tested.



  101. It also occurred to me that much of the workforce for the Industrial Revolution in the UK came from population growth, not expulsion of peasants from the land.

    Much of it, but nonetheless you can’t improve agricultural efficiency without reducing the workforce; the primary, if not exclusive cost in subsistence farming is the labour cost. That is, most of the food, if not all of it, is going to feed the farmer and his family, with little surplus.

    You could hope for peasants with a large surplus, but if everyone, or nearly everyone, works on the land, who will they sell it to? A farmer can only consume 100% of his food requirements. He needs to trade his surplus for non-food items, which requires a large non-agricultural economy. So advanced economies need to have only a small percentage of the population engaged in food production.

    I think Kevin hopes that high efficiency farming methods (that weren’t available at the time of the enclosure acts anyway) may allow his peasants to spend only, say 20% of their time growing food and the rest of the time producing something else. But a web designer or engineer is unlikely to want to have to keep breaking off that work to deal with farming requirements and problems and that wouldn’t be very efficient- “sorry I didn’t finish the javascript, it was lambing time”. So you’re bound to end up with most people giving up their farms for their other work, and buying their food from a small number of mass agriculturalists- factory farming of some type. Peasantry is neither efficient, nor a particularly appealing lifestyle choice for most people.

  102. Mondragon gets tax and regulatory privileges from the Spanish State:

    “The Basque government and the tax authorities of the Basque provinces have special measures to help co-operatives.”

    Thus, Mondragon’s success is not reflective of how a free market would treat co-ops. In the USA, co-ops and credit unions are generally less taxed and regulated than corporations.

    Falsifiability, in addition to being self-referentially refuting, is impossible in the social sciences, as controlled experiments are inherently impossible in social science, because the human factor of free will cannot be held constant.

    I would be a lot more sympathetic towards left-libertarianism if it didn’t keep coming down to repackaging Marxism in libertarian rhetoric.

    And no, it’s simply not true that the only way to increase the efficiency of farming is to reduce the labor force. The main way agriculture has been improved historically has been through improved technology and improved methods of crop planting, harvesting, etc. This can increase output per worker as well as output per acre. When that happens, the agricultural workforce can increase in size along with efficiency gains, and more land can be brought into production.

  103. Tim, you didn’t quite get my point. Imagine a closed economy (which the Earth’s global economy is). Take the extreme- imagine that everyone is a farmer. That means everyone must be producing only enough food to feed one man, otherwise there is an untradeable surplus and nobody to sell it to. So a 100% peasant economy will never be more efficient than each man producing one man’s food intake.

    They can spend less time per day doing that by increasing efficiency, sure. But if they do that, it will rapidly make more sense to specialise some people as food producers and others as producers of the other goods they’ve found time to produce.

    Ergo, any society that is a peasant economy will either not produce a surplus, or mutate into a non-peasant economy as people specialise into other businesses than agriculture. A 100% peasant economy cannot produce a surplus, so cannot feature economic growth. Economic growth (that is, an increase in general goods and services) is predicated on a reduction of the production of “needs” (that is, food and basic clothing and a shelter) in favour of the production of wants. specialisation and a move away from peasantry.

  104. Actually, Ian, I got all your points, I just disagree with most of them:

    1) Earth is not a closed-system economy;
    2) Even if everyone was a farmer, that wouldn’t imply nothing to trade (different farmers can grow different things and have different tools/animals/etc.)

    If all you’re trying to argue is that a peasant economy will soon evolve into a commercial/industrial one via the free market, I’ve no quarrel with that, but fail to see who you’re disagreeing with.

  105. 1) Earth is not a closed-system economy;

    Unless you know something about UFOs that I don’t, the Earth’s economy is a closed system. What external trade links does the Earth have? What are we buying from Mars at the moment?

    2) Even if everyone was a farmer, that wouldn’t imply nothing to trade (different farmers can grow different things and have different tools/animals/etc.)

    Yes it would imply precisely that, as I explained. If everyone is growing food and only food, then the average (mean) production of food per farmer must be the average consumption per farmer, because the total produced must equal the total consumed (otherwise there is either famine, or surplus that has to be destroyed/left to rot). It’s no use producing 50 loaves of bread per person per week, because they just can’t eat that much.

    The result of this peasant agrarian economy is that at best it can feed everyone. It can’t produce any other products, because there is nobody to produce them. That’s why, in order to have a society full of cool stuff like computers and microwave ovens, people have to move off the land, to a state where the remaining small number of farmers each produce far in excess of one man’s requirements.

    So romantic ideals of a mass return to the land and peasant farming actually, implicitly and inescapable, mean a return to a lifestyle with nothing but basic needs (food and shelter). And no tractors or steel tools to farm with either, because there’s nobody to make them.

  106. There are different ways that one can approach the “feudal” problem (leaving aside Tony Hollick bullshit about private enterprise supporters being in favour of “serfdom”).

    Who owns the land?

    In Prussia it was ruled that the former serf owners owned the land.

    But in France it was ruled that the individual peasants owned the land.

    In England there was no serfdom (in this period) – but in some parts of the country (especially in my own county of Northamptonshire) there were big “open field” systems of farming – where there were some communal elements and uncertainty over who owned the land.

    The various Acts of Parliament ruled that the various landowning familes (not the tenants) owned the land – but Kevin Carson would contest that (and he has a case).

    Russia is, as pointed out above, the weird example.

    In Russia it was ruled that the former serf owners did NOT own the land (at least not most of it) but that the also individual peasants did NOT own the land either (as with France).

    Instead peasant communities (Mirs) were held to own large areas of land – an idea that proved to be a total mess.

    Had Russia in 1861 followed either the English/Prussian alternative (the nobles and gentry own the land) OR the French alternative (the individual peasants own the land) its history would have been very different from what it was.

    Under Stolypin in the 1900’s the Russian government finally went for a semi French alternative – and the results were good. But fate was cruel – Russia did not have enough time before the First World War.

    Oddly enough the 1861 “peasant community” idea was based on a romantic misunderstanding of Russian peasant history.

    Where Russian peasants had been left free (i.e. not reduced to serfdom) they did NOT tend to go in for semi commual farming.

    Of course in a market order what starts as one thing can lead to another – competition being “a disovery procedure”.

    Say that it is decided that the nobles and gentry own the land – but these estates are too large to be efficient. Then they will tend to break up over time – the market (i.e. individual human choices – which are all “market forces” really are) will lead to that.

    Or let us say that estates are broken up into peasant plots – but these plots prove to be inefficient.

    Then, over time, farms will tend to grow larger – as as happened many times in various Latin American counties. “Land reform” comes along (a government breaks up estates), but the small farms do not work very well – so new estates form over time.

    It depends on many factors – for example how much rain there is and what sort of soil there is.

    There is no way to know aprioi what is the “correct” size of farm – that can only be found by leaving people to get on with things.

    Of course the same is true of manufacturing and service companies.

    Whatever one starts off with will chance – if “market forces” (i.e. individual human choices) are allowed to operate over time.

  107. No, Mr. Marks: Tony Hollick does not think that all those favouring private enterprise will favour sefdom. They may be naive; or inexperienced; or blinkered by ideology. They may be mistaken, wrong on the facts.

    Capitalism may on occasion favour individual liberty. But if this is so, why do advocates of private enterprise tell us that the raison d’etre of boards of management is to maximize the wealth of the shareholders?

    A true-believing Marxist believes that socialism will come about as a result of concentration of ownership in fewer and fewer wealthier hands. The obvious course for a Marxist who wants to speed the revolution is to support concentrated private ownership in fewer and hands. US Anti-trust measures owe much of their existence to this fear.

    “Marxists for Private Enterprise” does not seem a compelling slogan. But promoting the ascendancy of shareowners does not seem the only or the best course.

    American writer Jerry Pournelle in his essay ‘The World As It Could Be Made’, in Dr. Robert Prehoda’s “Your Next Fifty Years” [1980],
    has pointed out that some people deliberately opt for poverty (for other
    people), because they dislike seeing other people living as free,
    independent, self-confident individuals).

    Libertarians might consider the merits of of all those social arrangements which actually enhance the ability of others to live as they choose. It’s a tragedy, that State Socialist ideology gained control over the Left’s agenda. Libertarians would need to be a bit more self-critical and a bit less dogmatic.


  108. I have not called you a Marxist Tony.

    However, yes a shareowner owned company belongs to the shareowners – not to someone who chooses to work there.

    Just as individual owned company belongs to an individual.

    And a partnership belongs to the partners.

    And a cooperative belongs to the members of the cooperative.

    What form of business people choose to buy goods and services from is up to them.

    For example, if you choose to buy goods or services from a cooperative (even if the prices are higher and the quality of goods is lower) I am fine with that.

    If you wish to reduce poverty that is nice – I am sure you work hard and give lots of your income to the poor.

    As for government policies that would reduce poverty – well these include no more credit bubble expansion.

    Lending should be entirely from real savings (not credit expansion shell games – backed up by government when the bust comes).

    Regulations should be radically reduced – i.e. the law should be a matter of putting the nonaggression principle into practice.

    And government spending and taxation should be radically reduced.

    Of course in a Libertarian society there would be no tax advantages for companies over indivudals – as such things as the income tax, the capital gains tax, and inheritance tax, would not exist.

    However, even when none of the above taxes existed (government spending being wildly lower than it is now) and the financial system was much closer to sanity than it is now (although not fully sane) most people were still employed by other people – either via companies on an individual basis.

    This was nothing to do with “serfdom” or a desire to “undermine freedom” or perpetuate poverty.

    I repeat that Tony Hollick can go off into any “social arrangements” he likes.

    You can go and become a monk.

    Or you can join (or found) a cooperative.

    Good luck to you – and may state taxes (and the spending they finance) and regulations that make your life more difficult be removed at once.

    Personally I have (for most of my life) worked for shareowner owned companies, but presently I do not – I work for a chartiable trust.

    I warn you that this is no great wonderland of perfection – but, I repeat, if this is the direction you wish to go in your furture I wish you well.

  109. As for the antitrust statutes in the United States (and “competitution policy” in Britain) these have done great harm.

    For those who dislike reading big books, just look up the short article by Ayn Rand on the principles (or rather lack of principles) involved in “anti trust” policy.

  110. Tim Starr and Paul Marks both get many of their facts wrong in the weak arguments against Carson.

    For instance, Tim Starr claims:

    “Moreover, while Hill started by taking over a subsidized railroad which had failed, he eschewed all subsidies, even land grants, ever after.”

    That is not true. For completing the above mentioned railroad, the “St. Paul & Pacific” he received 2 million acres from the Minnesota land grant. He then sold the land as homesteads for $2.5 to $5 an acre. In other words, he made between 5 to 10 million dollars, almost all of it profit. In addition, it should be noted that he chose the subsidized railroads he bought so that his line would run right through the land grant.

    Hill was not a hero or even that extra-ordinary. He was simply lucky. I think it would have been a completely different story if he did not have dirt cheap –bought for 20 cents on the dollar– subsidized railroads to purchase when he entered the railroad business.

    Hence, the example of J.J Hill, when put in context, does little to overturn Carson’s basic point about transportation subsidies.

  111. “However, yes a shareowner owned company belongs to the shareowners – not to someone who chooses to work there.”

    The usual corporate apologia says that businesses exist to serve their customers. What’s your pick on that issue?


  112. Hill may have benefitted from state land grants for completing the bankrupt railroad he took over after the Panic of 1873, but I believe that was a part of the deal which was already in place, and the railroad had already gone bankrupt under its prior management. That, combined with the fact that all the other railroads got not only state but federal land grants, and they all went bankrupt, unlike Hill’s, means that the land grants fail to explain Hill’s success.

    When it came to building his new railroad, the Great Northern, instead of just taking one over, Hill did it without any Federal land grants.

  113. Tony – a business offers goods or services to customers, in the hope of making a profit. It makes no difference to this whether the business is owned by one person, or by a group of people (as with a “corporation”). So the line “the usual corporate apologia says that businesses exist to serve their customers” makes no sense (on any level).

    Of coure an individual (or a group of people formed into an association of some sort) may choose not to make a profit (they may be working charitably), but we do not normally call such an undertaking a business.

    Tim Starr.

    Yes – agreed on all points here.

    Of course had the government not claimed ownership of the land, Hill could simply have claimed it himself (without having land grants).

    The only alternative owners would have been Indians – and they could not agree on which tribe (or whatever) owned what. For example (moving south of the land Hill was involved in), even the “sacred Black Hills of the Sioux” (talked of this way in endless Hollywood films) had been lived in by the Crow till the Sioux defeated them (hence the alliance of the Crow with the U.S. Army – a subject that does not fit anyone’s agenda, left or right).

    However, there are different ways of interacting with Indians – I will give an example.

    Two corrupt companies – both out for government money (so J.J. Hill would have despised them) but NOT the same.

    The famous race between the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific.

    The Union Pacific used armed force (private and government) to deal with Indians – but the Central Pacific preferred to pay them off (not just with money – but also with free transport, for years afterwards).

    Different tribes – yes but the Indians the Central Pacific interacted with were not all fluffy bunnies (not by a long chalk). So it was partly a CHOICE – an effort to try an different way.

    I repeat that both companies were corrupt (hardly J.J. Hill types) – but I have long been pleased the Central Pacific won the race (not just for the Indian reason – there are other reasons that I will not bore people with here).

    Oh yes the Hollywood films are wrong about this as well (just as they are wrong in leaving out the Crow, other than a few scouts, in films about the war with the various tribes of Sioux) – the films always tend to have both companies arriving at the same time. Actually the Central Pacific won the race by weeks – the Union Pacific had tried to cheat (it built bridges and and track to a ultra poor standard to try and save time – but the rains washed the bridges and track away so the U.P. had to go back and build them again, thus meaning a policy meant to save time actually cost them time).

    The Central Pacific had also tried to save time – a different way. They used nitro to help in cutting track line in the mountains (the U.P. did not have any mountains to worry about) – but the main organizer (a one eyed mountain of a man – with a harsh and nasty manner) vetoed it on the grounds it was too dangerious for the Chinese workers. They wanted to go on using it – but he said no as several Chinese had already been killed. An odd man (I wish I could remember his name) he seemed like a right SOB till the pressure was on – and then he turned out to be decent. He choose to take the risk of losing to the U.P. rather than carry on using nitro.

    Many people are the opposite – they seem decent till in an extreme situation and then they turn out to be no good.

    Of course a later incarnation of the Union Pacific (the people who had not had to worry about mountains) did find a use for explosives – they used them (and bullets) to try and put J.J. Hill’s Great Northern out of business.

    Hill appealed to the forces of law and order – but the U.P.s political connections were too strong. So he had to organize the defence of his own business. He did that successfully – but was later hit by “anti trust”. Contrary to the mythology “regualtions to control corporations” are not “in the interests of the workers and consumers” they are actually in the interests of other business enterprises (and of the government administrative structure – the state has its own interest, the desire to grow in power and scope, on top of any political connections of business interests).

  114. Paul:

    The usual apologia for business existing to serve the consumers aims to answer the issue of the role of business in the wider society. People shop for best fit to their requirements and their pocket-book. They don’t much care about the business’s profit. Businesses prosper as they meet those requirements. Most people are indifferent to who owns the business, and whether they make a profit. They might not be very happy to be told that the owners are indifferent to the customers.


  115. It must be remembered that the bad guys sometimes win – even without much government involvement.

    The classic example is the Licoln County War in New Mexico.

    Mr Dolan and Mr Murphy (and their associates) charged high prices – so Mr Tunstall and Mr McSween went into business in competition with them. Tunstall was shot down unarmed – and the only weapon McSween had was his Bible.

    Of course the winners paid a price – “Billy the Kid” and his “Regulators” made sure of that (it should be remembered that both sides wore badges and claimed to be the law), but that was vengeance it did change who was in charge in Lincoln County (the rancher Chisolm, who had financed Mr Tustall, was getting old – and did not want a war with the number and type of men that Murphy and Dolan hired). So sorry the John Wayne film was wrong – Chisholm side not ride into town (he stayed on his ranch where he could defend himself and his neice – rather than face lots of hardered killers wearing badges).

    The only time the U.S. Army turned up it was on the side of Murphy and Dolan.

    Who was in charge was made clear years later – when Mrs McSween hired a lawyer to bring charges over the murder of her husband. The lawyer was murdered as well.

    The only good thing to report is something I noticed years ago – a lot of the names of people who worked for Murphy and Dolan turn up in Arizonia, turn up DEAD.

    Mr Wyatt Earp and his friends do the killing – not the famous walk down the street in Tombstone, but rather later. The “Vengeance Ride” .

    Two of the Earp Marshalls (Morgan and Virgil) were shot from the darkness (in seperate incidents) – one died and the other was crippled for life.

    It was clear that the “Cowboys” (an association of cattle stealers and other such who had substanial interests both sides of the American/Mexican border) were not going away just because of a defeat in a gun fight in Tombstone – they were just going to pick people off (as had been the case in Lincoln County New Mexico) when they could not defend themselves.

    Wyatt Earp appears to have made a choice – a choice to give up any hope of running a business in Arizona, if that was the price that had to be paid. Appealing to the government was a ritual – that was never going to achieve anything. If the government armed forces ever did turn up – they would most likely side with the crimnals (I am defineing the word “criminal” to mean someone who uses force to take the property of other people – not someone who breaks this or that government regulation, everyone does that).

    Oh I know that officially all the people killed on the VR (and so on) died whilst resisting arrest and so on – but everyone know that Wyatt was not interested in taking prisoners, so they would have been insane not to go for their guns.

    Was W. Earp a murderer?

    Hard to say, especially as the only “Criminal Justice system” he could have appealed to was a corrupt joke and everyone knew it. If it helps he and his friends did wear badges and were duely sworn in.

    Still he had to leave the State (and he knew in advance he would) as it was all so BLATENT – there was no effort at covering up what he was trying to do.

    Perhaps he should have denied that place in the Jewish graveyard in LA in 1929 – but the pleas of his wife were strong. And people still remembered that sometimes “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” is actually the least bad option.

    Remember the Earps (and s0 on) were not in the habit of using force to take the property of other people – and no one who had not done so had anything to fear from them.

    Also look up the history of the people who died on the Vengeance Ride – for example the man who BOASTED of never having shot a man in the front (always the back). He was one of Murhpy/Dolans men from the Lincoln County war.

    Also another difference – the people who rode on the VR were not paid to do so, the people they hunted were paid killers.

    “It does not justify extra judicial killing Paul” – I know, I know.

    But I also know that men Murphy and Dolan are not stopped by government regulations – they are the sort who write the regulations (or have them written).

    After all getting the government to close down the competition (with a lot of high sounding talk about how the regulations are for the good of consumers and workers) is less dangerious than trying to kill them – you might run into an Earp rather than a Mr Tunstall.

    If you can not outfight someone like J.J. Hill – then use “anti trust law” on him.

    Much safer than facing him in a honest fight.

  116. Tony.

    Is the charitable trust I work for “indifferent” to the customers who visit the park?

    Would it be more “indifferent” if it were a profit making company rather than a charitable trust?

    Again this is nothing to do with corporations.

    For example, a shop keeper may care about his customers – or he may be indifferent, offering them the best deal he can out of self interest (Sir Dudley North – or Adam Smith if you want the more recent writer).

    A manager working for a corporation (or a charitable trust 0r whatever) may care about the customers – or he may also be just offering the best deal he can out of the desire to make money.

    What matters is whether force is being used.

    Not whether it is Mr Dolan 0r “Mr Dolan Inc” or “Dolan/Murphy Ltd” (or whatever) – but whether someone is going to shoot (or use regulations on) a business competitor.

    And no – we at Wicksteed are NOT planning a raid to burn down Alton Towers (nor are we planning to use government regulations to have the same effect – i.e. the indirect use of force).

    Nor was it any different when Mr Charles Wicksteed owned the park – although in those days Alton Towers were just a house and gardens (they did not have rides and so on).

    It is depressing (very depressing) that I have to explain all this on a libertarian site.

    But then I had to explain (at great length) why an obvious Red (Kevin Carson) was not a libertarian.

    “Who are you to make the judgement that someone is not a libertarian” – a human being, that is who.

    It does not take a genius to work out that someone who wants to take everyone’s property (with the excuse that they could not prove just ownership since before the Norman Conquest – and sometimes not even with that excuse) is not a libertarian.

    It is like dealing with the Jacobins of the French Revolution – “we are not against private property, certainly not, we just want to take the property of people when it is not justly owned and when it is not being used in the best interests of the people – that is true freedom….”

    And it just so happened that…………

    Again it just takes ordinary human reasoning powers to see that this is a con.

    Only an intellectual could fall for such an obvious trick.

  117. By the way I know that Charles Wicksteed was a member of the land nationalization campaign for some of his life.

    It was pointed out to him that much the same “arguments” (i.e. web of double talk) could be used to “justify” stealing his factory. Indeed people who favoured stealing factories (as well as stealing land) ended up taking over the land nationalization movement – and this is just what should be expected.

  118. I have just read David Major’s comment – due to hotmail’s practice of giving me the most recent comment first and the oldest last (yes I know I could alter than – “my bad” as the Californian children used to say).

    J.J. Hill “not a hero”, “not extordinary”, “just lucky”.

    Do not use curse words Paul.

    Dear David Major.

    You are mistaken in your judgment of J.J. Hill. Please study his life and you well find a man whose work is worthy of a lot more respect than that of Kevin Carson.

    Your Sincerely.

    Paul Marks.

    Back to normal comment stuff.

    By the way even if J.J. Hill had not been a great man (which he was), had he been an average man, or even a below average man. You would not have been entitled to one stick of his goods.

    Should a man envy the good luck of another man (say some aristocratic fool who subsidizes the very people who would kill him – and whose family got their wealth by crawling to a tyrant king some generations ago) that is one thing.

    Envy is not an attractive emotion – but I can understand it “look at all the stuff that person has got – he never worked for it, and he is a fool and a waster anyway…..”

    However, should we not be talking about envy – but about an active plan to take by force the goods of the “just lucky” (whether they were just lucky or not) then the situation is very different.

    I may not like (I do not like) rich fools who subsidize the very people who would murder them – but I would still defend these people and their families.

    Yes the Duke of Bedford of the 1790’s (see Edmund Burke’s “Letter to a Noble Lord”) but even George Soros as well.

    “But how can Soros be a fool” – there are different sorts of intelligence.

    Mr Soros is very clever at making money (vastly more clever than me – although as a I am a total moron in terms of money making it is not hard to be vastly better at it than me), but he knows nothing of politics and thinks he knows vast amounts.

    A fatal combination – an ignorant man who knows he is ignorant is likely to avoid politics, but an ignorant man who thinks he knows everything about political matters is walking around with a big sign on his back saying “con me, I am a mark”.

    Of course it may be that Mr Soros knows he is financing Marxists – but my guess is that he has not got a clue.

  119. Paul,

    Envy, shemvy. Please stop psychologizing; it makes you look like a quack.

    Paul and Tim,

    The bigger question, as far as I’m concerned, is whether or not a businessman achieved his success on a free market. In J.J Hill’s case, I would argue that he did not achieve all his success on a free market; he was aided by many factors that have no place in a free market: A two million acre land grant; the existence of subsidized railroad capital that he more than once bought for pennies on the dollar; involvement and assets in a steamship company that achieved monopoly status because of irrational government regulation; and, to top it all off, financing by a corrupt, government favored financial sector, both at home and from abroad.

    Ultimately, it is hard to determine what the fate of J.J Hill would have been in the absence of the market distorting factors listed above, but I doubt that he would have ended up owning over 8,000 miles of railroad line. That he might have is indeed in the realm of possibilities, but I find it doubtful.

  120. Perhaps it is time to have an argument about the distortions from market purity imposed upon us by the building of the Roman roads?

    The troubling part of all this for me, as a somewhat old fashioned libertarian who is quite fond of mass production, is that so far as I can tell the worldview being presented by Mr Carson is that the ideal economy is localist and the building of road and rail links prevents that by allowing nasty big factories to distribute their nasty mass products to the masses.

    I have a bit of a problem with that, because I am yet to be persuaded that every village can have its own semiconductor fab, or that we would be able to argue about this on the internet if computers had to be built in local workshops. A nation that doesn’t build roads doesn’t seem very likely to run power lines and fibre optics over hill and dale to me.

    Travel conduits such as roads and rivers have been a means of trading goods since prehistory. I am actually quite comfortable with that. It is certainly true that the building of canals and railways needed acts of parliament and thus the State was involved; but vast amounts of private capital were invested, and often lost, in their construction and I am yet to be persuaded that a nation without modern roads, railways or canals would be quite so advanced as our nation is. And I am really quite fond of advanced goods and services. That’s one reason why I’m a libertarian.

  121. Ian B,

    If what you posted was supposed to be in response to me, all I can say is: “strawman argument.”

    If you want to talk about roads and “local” vs “centralized” markets, fine. But it has nothing to do with what I just said.

    The whole point of my previous post was that it is arguable that Hill benefited from influences that, in my view, should not exist in a free market and are, in fact, not just.

    Justice: That’s one reason why I’m a libertarian.

  122. David Major, I was addressing the general discussion, as various posts have dropped into my inbox over the past couple of days.

    As to your specific post, the problem with counterfactualising is that you can never have any certainty. You can know what happened, but not what would have happened under different circumstances. It is particularly dangerous to adjust one variable in a counterfactual without considering that, in a dynamical system like the economy, all other variables would alter.

    As an example, we can look at some business in the past and note that, for instance, it was awarded a State development grant when it started up. We may therefore say that it benefitted from State intervention. But we need to remember that the business was operating in an economy where development grants were the norm; and we thus cannot know what shape the economy would have been had those grants never been available. Perhaps that business would have simply raised capital on the free market.

    People take advantage of whatever is available. Parents are awarded child support by the government, for instance, and they manage their financial affairs around that system. It would however be fallacious to argue that without the child support, none of those parents could have raised their children by other means.

  123. Ian B,

    Sorry for misunderstanding who the post was directed at, I really couldn’t tell.

    I already acknowledged the uncertainty of “counterfactualising” with this statement: “Ultimately, it is hard to determine what the fate of J.J Hill would have been in the absence of the market distorting factors listed above…”

    However, I am certain they ARE market distorting factors, and I am also certain –albeit to a lesser extent– that Hill benefited from them.

  124. David Major – well I am a “quack”, but I do not declare the wealth of other people to be illegitimate and you (being a Kevin Carson fan) do. Using whatever excuse you can think up (or borrow from someone else). Of course it is easy to correct me here – all you need to say is “although I would have much rather there had been a total free market, of course I regard the wealth of Hill and the rest to be legitimate – and I would totally oppose any effort to take it from them”. Then I would be refuted and would apologise to you.

    Some people achieved great things in business but had weird political opinions – Carnegie springs to mind (at one point he even supported “government control” of the steel business). However, some people (such as J.J. Hill) achieved great things in business and also had fairly sound political opinions, he was no “Progressive” and so found himself out of sympathy with the political wave.

    One can always find some state element somewhere – for example I walk on state provided pavements, perhaps if there were not there I would trip and break my neck…… However, to say (as you did) that “one can not know” if Hill would have achieved great things if there had been a total free market in 19th century American is total bullcrap (and you know it).

    Have you bothered to look at the man’s life? His work? His achievements?

    And that is one person among many. Hill’s importance, in this discussion, what that some might hope that such an extreme example might make you draw back. I have no such hopes of Carson fans – not phychologising , just long experience of your sort of person (again it was be easy to correct my view of your character – but somehow I doubt you will….)

    “Would a businessman have acheived his success in a free market” – the market was VASTLY more free in the America (or Canada) of the time of Hill and so many others (or the Britain of Armstrong and so many others) than it is now. Yet this is still not good enough for you.

    “And not good enough for you either Paul” – AGREED, I would have wanted even less state involvement than there was. But I do not then go on to say “because there was not a perfect free market these people were not great” still less that because there was not a perfect free market their wealth was illegitimate.

    This is a “unless there was a perfect free market we can steal their stuff” position.

    Of course you have a right to argue that (just as Carson has a right to write his articles and big book), but you have no right whatever to use force to try and put your desires into effect.

    At bottom you people are no better than Barack Obama. In fact, in a way, you are worse, as at least Comrade Barack does not go around calling himself a “libertarian”.

  125. Before Ian B. (or someone else I respect) comes in and says “you are being too harsh Paul” I will suggest a book.

    “The Myth of the Robber Barrons: A New Look of the Rise of Big Business in America” by Burton W. Folsom and Forest McDonald.

    If I am WRONG and people like David Major are basically honest types – who have just read about the bad side of people and know nothing of the good side, then they will be really impressed by this book.

    It does not cover up any state involvment in anything – but it gives the good side of events and people also.

    Of course if I a RIGHT – they will not be impressed at all. They will still hold to Kevin Carson “this wealth is illegitmate therefore we can……”

    It is not psychology – it is just basic common sense, a “nose” for what sort of people I am dealing with. I understood what Carson was within minutes of first looking at that article of his in the conference pack (at a Libertarian Alliance conference) some years ago.

    My mistake (and I admit it was a very serious mistake) was to assume that the article was either in the pack by mistake – or as a shock thing. The sort of thing it is claimed (by some) that David Hume was doing – argue something that is obviously false (indeed demented) in order to “wake people from their dogmatic slumber” to get people to think about what they believe and why.

    With Hume it was claims (in various writings) that the self did not exist (that there really was no such thing as “I”) that there was no agency (no free will) because, properly speaking, there were no agents (no human BEINGS). And, sometimes not far away in the writings, that there was no objective material universe either – just impressions in our minds (the very minds he had just implied did not exist). Of course Hume always desribed himself as a “sceptic” NOT a believer in the system I have just described – what (some claim) he was doing was saying was “reason can not PROVE even the most basic things – your own existance as an agent, and the existance of the objective material universe” which is very different thing from actually believing that there are no such thing as people (i.e. that humans are not beings, not agents, but are just flesh robots whose actions are predetermined by a series of causes and effectesgoing back to the start of the universe). And it is a very different thing from believeing that there is no such thing as the objective material universe.

    It is not quite true to say that David Hume created the Common Sense school of philosophy (there were philosophers working on common sense, if not Common Sense, lines long before Thomas Reid put pen to paper in response to Hume), but his attack certainly stimulated it.

    The basic principles of Aristotle (that the physical universe objectively exists, that we also exist as reasoning agents with the power to choose between good and evil, and that good and evil, right and wrong, are real – not just words we apply to things we like or dislike) were defended outside the Aristotelian setting (not that I am saying anything negative about Aristotelians) – by such philosophers as Ralph Cudworth long before people were using the words “Common Sense” to describe a formal school of thought.

    However, Hume did stimulate Thomas Reid, and Dugald Stewart (Sir William Hamilton is a rather more complex and difficult case), and forward to Noah Porter and James McCosh (the “Scottish Philosophy” dominated American thought till the very late 19th century) although few now remember this. For example McCosh was very clear that biological evolution was NOT a threat to Christianity (or to morals) which is why the orignial “Fundementalists”, the writers of the essays on “The Fundementals” (in opposition to the “Social Gospel” left) in the early 1900’s did NOT oppose biological evolution – how many modern “fundementalists” know that?

    Even in Britain one can point at the Oxford Realists (Cook Wilson, Sir William David Ross – and especially Harold Prichard) as a response to Hume – people setting out to “prove the obvious” because it had been challenged. The existance of the objective material universe (and are ablity to study it) the existance of our selves (i.e. that we are agents, beings, subjects with the capacity to choose – the “I”), and that good and bad, right and wrong, are not just sounds of liking and disliking. The principles of Aristotle perhaps – but not using the language and so on of the Aristotelians (again I am not saying anything against this language and so on….).

    Sometimes I think of Antony Flew (who died a few months ago) as part of the same tradition as men like Harold Prichard or Thomas Reid or Ralph Cudworth, however that gets into complex matters.

    So someone could put a Kevin Carson article in a Libertarian Alliance pack with the same “shock” principle in mind – “here is a person who calls himself a libertarian but attacks the private wealth of virtually all flesh and blood human beings (only the wealth of people in a totally different world being legitimate)” the idea being to wake people up (to set them thinking) NOT to seriously redefine “libertarian” so that it is just, in practice, another type of Red (i.e. enemy of actually existing property).

    It took me a long time to see that the intent was much more radical than an effort at “shock”, at “waking people up”. There are people out there who really believe this stuff (and some of them are in high positions in the “Libertarian Alliance”).

    Just as, whatever David Hume himself may have believed, there are many modern philosophers who really do believe self contradictory things such as there is no such thing as the self (no “I” – no agent, no real choices). And these people are often in important academic positions.

  126. Paul, I don’t know why you’d think I would attack you for being harsh. I would’ve thought it was quite clear from my recent posts that I am not a fan of Carsonism.

    But I am quite a fan of, er, “Marksism” :o)

  127. Ian I do not think you are a fan of Carsonism – but someone could oppose Carsonism and still think I am a harsh S.O.B.

    Also I failed to point out something above (senilty – anyone got a nice brain to sell me cheaply?).

    It is, of course, not up anyone to “prove the obvious” – that A is A, that 1+1 =2, that I exist, that theft is wrong (and so on).

    The “burden of proof” is on the person who denies the obvious.

  128. Paul,

    I see a lot a verbage –this in not a mispelling, google it– signifying nothing. Even you acknowledge this with your following statement
    ” ‘Of course it is easy to correct me here – all you need to say is “although I would have much rather there had been a total free market, of course I regard the wealth of Hill and the rest to be legitimate – and I would totally oppose any effort to take it from them”. Then I would be refuted and would apologise to you.’ ”

    No need to apologize Paul! Your own acknowledgment about how flimsy your case is, is apology enough!

    It is also amusing to see you declare that you are not psychologizing, that you instead have a “nose” for “what sort of people” you are dealing with, thus knowing their motives and integrity; all of this apparently “within minutes”, or, in other words, judge motive without all the relevant information. Oh yes, how convenient, that you never have to deal with an oppenent on intellectual terms. After all, you “nose” –get it?– his heart of hearts and once declared a charlatan you can conveniently ignore, mock, engage in red herrings, and strawman and question the honesty everything he has to say.

    No, I don’t have Paul’s “nose” for peoples motives, and yes, I just psychologized about his. At least I have the intellectual courage and honesty to acknowledge what I am doing.

    You ask if I have bothered to look at the mans life, his work, his achievements? Yes, I have. How else do you think I know the details of his first railroad purchase, his steamboat operation, etc? Paul, it may surprise you to hear this, but I do actually respect Hill.

    I respect Hill, but I still question if he would have been able to build the empire he did if he had been competing in a free market without factors that subsidized his expansion and success.

  129. For the sake of the other readers –because, after all, Paul must “know” this– observe that in his response to me, he never really addressed the points I actually made. His whole response was pretty much just a red herring.

  130. David Major – I would never dispute your spelling, I am the worst speller in the known universe.

    My attitude to style is much the same – Dr Gabb (and many others) make great efforts with style, but I could not care less about it (“and that shows Paul”).

    Your “points”:

    You argued that the United States was not a perfect free market in the late 19th century.

    Quite right Sir – I have never said it was a perfect free market.

    But that does not justify you or anyone else taking the stuff of other people – or saying it is not “really” their stuff.

    By the way Hill never had an “empire”, and he would have clearly done BETTER (nor worse) had their been less government intervention at the time.

    I do not need to have much of a “nose” to smell a foe as such people tend to make it obvious what they are. Even the clever ones can seldom resist making it obvious.

    For example, Kim Philby used to make little socialist “jokes” in conversation – it was obvious what he was. Even without knowing about his socialist father – the traitor (he betrayed the people he was sent by the F.O. to help in Arabia – and put the House of Saud in power against his orders) St John Philby, with whom he was on good terms, and his socialist commitment at Cambridge. Kim’s “right wing” political activity was only convincing to people who wanted to be convinced – to people who liked him as a person.

    What one needs is a critical cast of mind – the ability NOT to give people the “benefit of the doubt”. In other words, to be a harsh S.O.B.

    If it looks like a duck, and it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck – then (most likely) it is a duck. Of course sometimes it will turn out not to be – but most times it will be a duck.

    If someone uses the “arguments” a Red would use and for the same purpose (to undermine the legitimacy of existing private property) then he, most likely, is a Red.

  131. David Major, do you agree with Kevin Carson that-

    Without subsidy, there would have been no mass transportation.
    Without mass transportation, there would have been no mass production.
    Industry thus would have remained small and local rather than large and centralised.
    This would have been a Good Thing.

  132. By the way, if the above makes me sound like the man from Wisconsin ……

    Well I am not a Progressive (I do not support government housing subsidies and other such) although I agree with his long record of opposition to National Socialism (going back to the 1930’s) even though it meant the German areas of Wisconsin would never vote for Joe (they confused being anti Nazi with being anti German as an ethnic group).

    I also support his anti segregation stance (long before that was fashionable) although I do not support forcing private business enterprises not to be bigoted if that is what they want to be. And his standing by Roy Cohn was brave (although VERY stupid – as it made a enemy of important “homophobes”, to use a modern word, such as Senator Flanders, if McCarthy had promoted Robert Kennedy rather than Roy Cohn things might have been very different) – to McCarthy being a Jew and a homosexual was not important if a person was an enemy of the Reds (pity most other people did not think like that). Although Cohn was an emotional loose cannon, as he showed when he messed up the army hearings.

    “But what about the honourable (British spelling – sorry) men and women he persecuted”.

    If you mean shouted at (when they sneared at him) by “persecuted” then there is a little problem here – they were not “honourable men and women”
    most of the famous cases (including the women in the George Clooney film) were scumbags, traitors, enemies of the West. I do not know of any case where McCarthy shouted at a witness when they were not this (and had not started the verbal conflict themselves – the bits of the conversation the films and other such miss out). McCarthy was too Irish (the American sort of Irish) – when someone pushed him he always pushed back (regardless of how it would be made to look by selective editing).

    Again Joe McCarthy did not need special magic powers to figure out who the traitors were – the evidence was out there (even without the decoded messages we have now) – you just had to be looking for it, be open to it (people would give you documents if they knew you would actually use them). Not think “these well educated ladies and gentlemen can not possibly be traitors”. Actually they normally made it obvious (they showed what they were almost every time they opened their mouths or put pen to paper).

    If you want a look at the detailed cases (the failed investigations as well as the successful ones) – then read M. Stanton Evans “Blacklisted by History”.

    By the way one of the best background books on Obama came my way recently – covering everything from the loose ideas (the born outside the U.S. theory that so many people have does NOT convince me – the evidence that the mother left in the relevant time period is not there), to the very well researched stuff.

    Don Fredrick (for it is his book “The Obama Timeline” that I am pointing at) is clearly an Obama “trainspotter” as we say in Britian – someone who has gathered every bit of intelligence (reliable and unreliable) about the man for years. And what is good about him is his open about his sources – so one can see which stories are reliable and which are NOT.

    The balance?

    The man is as guilty as Hell.

    The evidence is so overwhelming that (I believe) the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution would (had he been a German politician) issued a report on his LIFELONG totalitarian political associations. Certainly (and rather amusingly – in a sick sort of way) he would not have been able to pass any background screening for a sensitive position – and now he is Commander in Chief (in charge of all those people in sensistive positions).

    Of course people should still have the right to vote for him – but at least they would have some idea what they were voting for.

    “Hope and change” (what they thought they were voting for) does not quite openly present being a life long Red, filled with hatred for the West in general and the United States in particular.

  133. Perhaps I should give David Major the chance to speak first – it is normally a mistake to speak first (as Brutus found out – at least in the play). But I will state my position on the transport question.

    Carson is wrong – on all counts.

    Small scale production will not work – if you are dealing with a very large population. It would mean mass starvation.

    Nor is subsidy needed for transport.

    For example the English canal network in the 18th century showed what could be done – as did turnpike roads.

    Nor do I think the railways needed subsidy – they did not get money of course (in Britain), but one could argue that the right of way stuff was a subsidy of sorts – but even that was not actually needed.

    The Stamford case proves this, the local land owners blocked (in Parliament) the compulsory sale to the railway company for what is now called the East Coast Mainline. However, this just meant that the railroad went via Peterborough instead – where the landowners were more favourable to it.

    Rail (or road or canal) does not have to go on ruler straight lines – if a landower really does not like it (and money will not convince them otherwise) then build round. Out of earshot if they do not like the noise.

  134. Mr. Major:

    Ian has nicely summarized the essential point at issue:

    “Without subsidy, there would have been no mass transportation. Without mass transportation, there would have been no mass production.”

    That is what Carson argues, and what I, Paul, and Ian oppose. Do you agree with it or not? There’s no middle ground on this. “Not sure” equals “do not agree.”

    Saying that Hill benefitted from subsidy, BTW, accepts the claim that the subsidies were actually beneficial. But, if they were so beneficial, then why did all the other railroads fail anyway despite getting those subsidies, and why would Hill eschew Federal subsidies that remained available for the rest of the 19th century, and which all his competitors availed themselves of?

    My understanding of the actual economics of the subsidies is that they were not beneficial. They were offered because the market wasn’t settling the Western USA as fast as the politicians wanted, and they encouraged overextension of track beyond what was economically feasible given the actual settlement rate. Thus, the subsidies were actually harmful to the economic health of the railroads, not beneficial.

    Hill’s genius seems to have consisted in operating and building railroads as if there were no subsidies, and eschewing them entirely at the Federal level. Yes, he still received some goods & services from the State that probably were beneficial, but far less so than his competitors, and everyone that lives in a world of States is going to get stuff from the State in some form or another.

    This reminds me of my point about the Scottish and Dissenter origins of the Industrial Revolution. These were two of the most politically disenfranchised groups in the UK, the Scots having lost their monarchy to England and the Dissenters being forbidden to hold political office or be in any licensed professions because of their unwillingness to take the loyalty oath to the Church of England. Yet virtually all of the great entrepreneurs of the early Industrial Revolution came from these two groups. The British establishment sneered at trade and industry, yet Carson would claim that the only reason why, e.g., Josiah Wedgewood, was successful was that he was the beneficiary of favoritism from the very same establishment that refused him entrance as a member.

    Even well after the Industrial Revolution was underway, the British establishment was producing parliamentary committee reports condemning industrialism for liberating women and children and depriving agricultural landlords of their peasant labor force. These very same reports were then picked up by Karl Marx and used to argue for the evils of capitalism and the desirability/inevitability of socialism.

  135. I’m beginning to wonder if we ought to have some kind of exclusive “Keven Carson Thread Club”; we stalwarts of the LAB’s perennial thread could have a club tie or badge or something, and meet once a year in an agreed public bar to discuss how the thread is going, and plan the next year’s discussions, and perhaps award a prize for “Comment Of The Year”.

    Then we could have a fierce, beer-fuelled argument about who used the public roads and railways to get there.


  136. It is amusing to see the that nobody is now contesting Hill received subsidies from market distortions. The tactic has shifted to downplaying the role they played in his success, that he received less than his competitors (as if that matters), and even implying that they might have actually hindered him in some mysterious way. Hilarious!

    I will post something more substantial later.

  137. I don’t think anyone would deny that economic history is full of market distortions. I don’t know any totally free market that has ever existed. Show me any company, or any individual, and they’ll have received benefits and penalties from government interaction. That’s even true of you, without doubt.

    As I pointed out above, the substantive issue here is the Carson Thesis. I’d be interested in your reply David.

  138. Ian: Will it be locally-produced craft beer, or something mass-produced & shipped in from far away? 🙂

    David: There’s no shift. I’ve been making the same argument from the start. You just haven’t yet shown any signs of understanding it.

  139. Tim,

    I wasn’t going to post again until I had time to put together a post that responds to all the points brought forth today. However, I am now going to briefly address what you just said…

    Well, if I have misunderstood you, my apologies. However, based on your original discussion of Hill it seems that you were denying that Hill received any type of subsidization, direct or indirect. Witness this quote:
    “However, Henry Hill’s Great Northern Railroad was not subsidized, and did not behave badly.”

    You said that, remember? I will concede that Hill eschewed any sort of direct subsidization, and for that I admire him. However, I think it is arguable that he received plenty of indirect subsidization, and I have so far only received what amounts to weak murmurings of disapproval for pointing that out.

    Hi Ian, you said: “As I pointed out above, the substantive issue here is the Carson Thesis. I’d be interested in your reply David.”

    No worries, I will respond when I have time to post a response worthy of such a discussion. Right now I am only responding with light volleys; I will try to bring out the heavy artillery later. (That was just a metaphor, I am not trying to claim to be extremely brilliant, or intimidating, or anything like that).

  140. “However, I think it is arguable that he received plenty of indirect subsidization,”

    The problem is, that is true of everybody. Property ownership itself is indirectly subsidised by State provision of armies, law, police, courts etc. So your point is in that sense true but trivial.

  141. Kevin Carson presents some libertarian ideas to a leftist audience. He doesn’t preach to the converted as some do; nor does he pander to rightist shibboleths. And he brings a welcome perspective to some worthwhile intellectual history. He doesn’t write for a right-libertarian audience; and it’s like blaming a teetotaller for failing to standing his round, to accuse him of rejecting some rightist ideas. “Let a hundred schools of thought contend!” Smiles


  142. Yes, but the problem is Tony, he’s just plain wrong and, in particular, economically illiterate.

  143. “However, I think it is arguable that he received plenty of indirect subsidization,”

    ‘The problem is, that is true of everybody. Property ownership itself is indirectly subsidised by State provision of armies, law, police, courts etc. So your point is in that sense true but trivial.’

    Well said, Ian.


  144. I agree that he’s wrong on some issues. But he seems well-read, particularly regarding some neglected writers and ideas.

    Chris Tame had a library of thousands of books on issues of politics, philosophy, economics and history. These books, illuminating his thinking on so many issues, were priceless.


  145. I engage in another light volley:

    “ ‘However, I think it is arguable that he received plenty of indirect subsidization,”

    ‘The problem is, that is true of everybody. Property ownership itself is indirectly subsidised by State provision of armies, law, police, courts etc. So your point is in that sense true but trivial.’

    Well said, Ian.

    Tony’ ”

    No, not well said. His argument is essentially a strawman.

    He dropped the context of what I meant about indirect subsidization. I will provide the context again by quoting some of my original posts:

    “In J.J Hill’s case, I would argue that he did not achieve all his success on a free market; he was aided by many factors that have no place in a free market: A two million acre land grant; the existence of subsidized railroad capital that he more than once bought for pennies on the dollar; involvement and assets in a steamship company that achieved monopoly status because of irrational government regulation; and, to top it all off, financing by a corrupt, government favored financial sector, both at home and from abroad.”

    Ultimately, it is hard to determine what the fate of J.J Hill would have been in the absence of the market distorting factors listed above, but I doubt that he would have ended up owning over 8,000 miles of railroad line. That he might have is indeed in the realm of possibilities, but I find it doubtful.”

    “I already acknowledged the uncertainty of “counterfactualising” with this statement: “Ultimately, it is hard to determine what the fate of J.J Hill would have been in the absence of the market distorting factors listed above…”

    However, I am certain they ARE market distorting factors, and I am also certain –albeit to a lesser extent– that Hill benefited from them.”

    Granted, I said “market distorting factors” but I could have just as easily said “indirect subsidization” and it should have been clear when I finally did say “indirect subsidization” that I was not talking about those things and not the “trivial” things Ian mentioned.

  146. I just realized that the way I quoted in my post makes it harder to read than it should be, so I will say this in order to clarify (maybe):

    The body of text between the sentence: “I will provide the context again by quoting some of my original posts:” and the sentence that begins with “Granted” in the last paragraph is me quoting myself from various posts.

    Maybe that makes thing a little clearer.

  147. However, I am certain they ARE market distorting factors, and I am also certain –albeit to a lesser extent– that Hill benefited from them.”

    I’m sure there are and I daresay he did. We could go through every historic businessman and spend inordinate amounts of time forming similar judgments. Then we could go through all the small businesses and tot up the grants they received, the free roads they were built along, the State mail services they used, the Statist banking system and so on, and then we could turn to the individuals in society who benefitted from welfare, subsidised housing, free museums and libraries, the ability to visit Aunt Effie by using the railroad and the subsidised journeys to the coast along the free roads in automobiles built by manufacturers with friends in high places.

    And after our millions man hours doing that, what have we discovered? Would we have a list of winners and losers and be able to discern the shape of the economy wihtout all those distortions? No, we’d just have shown that there has always been an interventionist state, and that no true free market has ever existed.

    You see, I’m not much interested in this bloke, for that reason. He’s just one actor in the economy. He got his railroad a bit cheaper than he might have done otherwise, and the people using the railroad got some transport they might not have had otherwise, and so on. It doesn’t really tell us anything.

    In particular, it doesn’t address the Carson Thesis at all, because it doesn’t prove what would have happened under a total free market. It gives us no insight into whether the railroad was a Good Thing or a Bad Thing. And that’s what we’re actually interested in.

    Let’s repeat this: Carson’s thesis is that without Statism, there would have been no mass industry and that would have been better for everybody.

    Can we now discuss that major issue, rather than this minor one?

  148. David Major:

    Does someone getting benefit from government action (for example me walking on a government street – or accepting pay as a local councillor) give you (or anyone else) the right to take their stuff? NO IT DOES NOT.

    I think Hill would have been more successful (not less) if there had been less state intervention than there was (although there was much less state intervention then than now), but say I am WRONG and he would have been less successful – that does that give you (or anyone else) the right to take his stuff? NO IT DOES NOT.

    Tim Starr and Ian B. have treated you with respect (they are not like me – they believe in giving people like you a chance) – they have asked you a simple and direct question. Do you support the idea that without state intervention there would be no mass transportation links – and that this would be a GOOD THING as economies of scale do not exist and local small scale production is fine and dandy for a vast population.

    Instead of giving a straight reply, you have dodged about and SNEERED – now that might be O.K. replying to me – but they have tried hard to treat you seriously (I would say your lack of response proves that I am correct – i.e. you, and Carson, do not deserve to be treated seriously).

    It reminds of the McCarthy hearings – when someone was Cong they reacted to direct (and perfectly CIVIL) questions by dodging about and sneering (not with direct and honest replies). Only then (and even then only sometimes) would McCarthy lose his temper.

    “Not the same situation Paul” true, but the same tactic (reflecting a similar type of person). It is not a matter of “psychology” it is a matter of common sense. When I am dealing with someone of bad moral character (someone who just is no good) it makes no sense, I believe, for me to pretend that they are not people of bad moral character.

    There is a easy way to refute me on your character – all you have to say (and BELIEVE) is the following:

    “Of course I oppose Carson on transport and on large scale production – and I totally oppose the idea that the lack of a perfect free market makes the property of people, even people who have benefitted from state intervention, illegitmate”.


    Kevin Carson does not present libertarians ideas to a leftist audience – he does not present libertarian ideas PERIOD. His ideas are not libertarian.

    The fact that Sean Gabb says Carsonism is libertarian says nothing about Kevin Carson – but it says a lot about the judgement of Sean Gabb. Actually it MAY (or may not) be a lot more than a judgement problem – but I will leave it at that.

    By the way leftists are NOT won over by presenting libertarian ideas with a leftist gloss (although I repeat Kevin Carson does NOT do that).

    Take someone who really did try and win over leftists by presenting libertarian ideas in leftist language (going on about “American Imperialism” the “ruling class” and so on) Murry Rothbard in the late 1960s and early 1970’s.

    Did he win over leftists? Of course not – actually the net result of “left and right join hands” is that some students (who had been libertarians – or at least free market people) ended up Marxists. Ape the language and methods of the left – and you just end up creating more leftists.

    Leftists are not “converted” by cheap tricks – in fact it is a mistake to think of easy conversions at all.

    In reality for a man to give up leftism is an intensely PERSONAL thing (I have seen the process in several people) – such people go through an agony of self doubt and internal exploration, they become very different people. And it is something they have to do for themselves – no one else can do it for them.

    The starting point tends to be same – the rejection of FANTASY as one of the starting point for comparison, the demand for OBJECTIVE REALITY to be both points of comparison.

    The left always try to compare actually existing conditions in a “capitalist” country with FANTASY (either pure fantasy – or the pretence that some socialist Hell hole is really a fluffy place). The leftist starts on his long and difficult road from the left when he rejects that method – when he starts to demand a comparison between two points that are both objective reality.

    Take the example of Vietnam:

    No leftist will be won over by claim that the VC and NVA were “really libertarians” not Marxists (the Rothbard “peasants revolt” “National Liberation Front is fighting for freedom” line) because it is clearly BULLSHIT.

    Indeed not only will leftists not be won over – but NONLEFTISTS (who have been taught that the VC and the NVA are the good guys) are going to trend towards the left.

    On the other hand some leftists started to make comparisons between the Republic of Vietnam (“South Vietnam”) the Kingdom of Laos, and Cambodia and the Marxists. They continued to believe that the nonCommunist side in all these three nations was far from perfect – but the OBJECTIVE REALITY that their own side (the Marxist side) was WORSE, started to have an effect on them. The objective reality started them on the hard and stony road (for it is a hard and stony road – very difficult to climb). How far they went on that road was up to them – their own reasoning and their own desire for the truth. But it is objective reality (not clever debating tricks) that starts people on the road.

    The above should not be taken to mean that I think Vietnam was a “good war” (whatever that might be), still less that I think the strategy was correct (in fact the basic strategy followed by McNamara and co was rejected by the military back in the 1950’s – i.e. rejected, due to the overwhelming evidence against this stratedy, YEARS BEFORE he insisted it be used in IndoChina).

    The above should not be held to downplay the role of theory – theory is vital, people need to know WHY private property based civil society is better than socialism (and there IS a role for apriori logic here), and how such nations can be improved (by reducing state intervention). But theory cut off from reality (indeed theory that runs flat against reality) is no good.

  149. I’ve been reading Kevin Carson’s stuff for several years, and most of it seems left-libertarian. I’m not fixated on labels, but Kevin Carson claims to be an anarchist who professes the ideas of Proudhon and others. The question “What is a libertarian” seems unproductive, as there can be no rigid template for “libertarian” and spending time discussing what such a template would be seems unproductive, as all “What is…” questions are. It reflects the essentialist error that words have fundamental meaning, whereas I would agree with Popper that the meaning of words is conventional. So pondering over the question of whether or not Kevin Carson is a libertarian seems pointless — discussing the ideas he advances is more useful.


  150. A quote from Glenn Beck is fitting here (and NO I am not a Mormon – nor am I an anti evolutionist).

    “Yes the truth shall set you free – but it will make you miseraable first”.

    If someone converting from the left does not go through agony (a long dark night of the soul) then I am not inclined to believe the conversion is genuine.

    Contrary to what is often said, I do not believe that people give up leftism with as little effort as they would take to have a hair cut and put on a suit – or that people just “grow out of” leftism. There are many well groomed and wealthy people in important positions – whose basic beliefs are exactly the same as when they were at college.

    To change one’s basic beliefs (one’s view of the world and of the people in that world) means becomming a different sort of person – there has to have been a terrible internal struggle.

  151. Proudhon “property is theft” – no it is not.

    I do not care whether this is called “left libertarianism” or not (although it is hardly “left” in the sense that Bastiat was “left”) it is still scumbagism.

    “Anarchist” – I am not interested (at least not interested in a nice way) with people who RENAME the state “the people” or “the community” or some other dodge.

    The only question I am interested in is are they going to use force to steal people’s stuff and kill them if they resist (and also kill anyone who tries to help the property owners).

    If they are just going to set up some socialist commune (such as the Robert Owen style community that used to exist near where Dallas now stands) I have no problem with them. Religious and secular communes are fine as far as I am concered (I would not like to live that way – but if other people want to, that is up to them).

    But if they are planning to use force against other people (to steal their stuff) then things are different. Regardless of whether they call themselves “Marxists”, “Libertarians” or followers of Ming of Mongo.

  152. “Let’s repeat this: Carson’s thesis is that without Statism, there would have been no mass industry and that would have been better for everybody.”

    We can never know. Since anarchism is unfeasible, and anarchists call “Statist” anything other than anarchism, the proposition is untestable.
    There doesn’t seem to be any mass industry in Somalia…


  153. Tony-

    Language is the externalisation of the mind’s classificational schemas. Since no two minds will have an indentical classificational mapping, words will always have some variation of understanding between individuals. Nonetheless, there is enough commonality that understanding can be shared; otherwise language would be useless, which it clearly isn’t. Two people may disagree over whether a colour perceived is red, or perhaps orangey-red, or orange, but that does not deny the usefulness of the word “red”. Both can agree that something green is not red, and that a rose is red or, at least, reddish.

    A word like “libertarian” does have a meaning. Individuals may argue about their own classifications; but that which is sufficiently far from their consensus can still be shown to be not-libertarian. Different Christians argue about the details of their faith; but both can agree that a man who does not believe in Christ is not a Christian of any kind. The boudary of a word is fuzzy, but that does not deny the existence of the boundary. If some man were to present a “New Christianity” that denies Jesus, Christians in general would have the right to say, “this man is not a Christian. He is entitled to his beliefs, but he is not one of us”.

  154. A person who believes that Christ never existed as a person can still advocate Christian ideas. Whereas Muslims believe that Christ existed, and was a prophet (likewise St. John).


  155. Anyone can indeed advocate Christian ideas; but if he doesn’t believe in Christ, the word Christian by definition cannot be used to describe him. The word Christian describes those persons who believe in the divinity of Christ, and thus excludes Muslims (who believe that Jesus was merely a man, like Mohammed).

  156. Anarchism (of the pro property sort) may be feasible – I just do not know.

    In Somalia (the various bits of Somalia) the various groups want to be the government. I believe that both f0rms of anarchism (both communal and noncommual) depend on most people wanting to live that way – if they do not, then (yes) it will not work.

  157. The problem with propertarian anarchism is that it’s a contradiction in terms; you can either have a property rights framework (which by definition has to be compulsory) or anarchy (which by definition denies any form of compulsion). The systems touted by “anarchists” of both left and right aren’t actually anarchy- they announce some set of institutions then pretend those institutions don’t count as a “state” or a “government”.

    I’ve argued this with a lot of anarchists and it’s like they can’t grasp this fundamental problem. Normally, they’re just defining the State very narrowly as modern western institutions and thus can pretend they’ve invented an anarchy by having older-style governance e.g. by clan or tribal systems.

    Even the granddaddy of anarcho-capitalism, Mr Rothbard, falls into the same trap. He abolishes the “State” and announces a set of private courts and armies of thugs private defence agencies, then, when faced with the problem of standards of evidence, jurisprudence, etc, quietly slides under the door the idea of some common standards adhered to by all the “agencies”, without acknowledging that, to do that, you’re back with a State of some kind again.

    You need a common system to resolve disputes. There’s no way around that. That doesn’t mean it can’t be a libertarian system. But it denies any hope of “anarchy”.

  158. Anarchy does not have to mean chaos – nor does it mean that everyone has to agree with property rights. There will always be criminals.

    One does not have to the go to the “Wild West” (and in most places the bad guys did NOT win – Lincoln County New Mexico is not typical), even in England many counties did not have a government police force till the 1850’s – nor was the they army a normal part of life.

    If someone was attacked (either their body or their goods – there home or their place of business), they would call out for people to help them. And people normally did help them – even if they were rich and most people near by were poor (Marxists would call it “false consciousness” people acting on what Rousseau, long before Marx, claimed that they only thought they believed – not what they “really” believed, you can guess what I think of this B.S.).

    Even “south of the river” – in the supposdly savage anarchy of what is now south London (but then was not part of London politically, not under the London magistrates, at all), if someone was attacked or robbed, most people would side with the victim (not the criminal).

    Of course statists (such as Edwin Chadwick) did not like non state methods of dealing with crime (and wrote reports showing everything in the worst possible light), but I am not willing to dismiss the Bruce Benson (etc) case lightly.

    In the end one may indeed need a government – but I just do not know. However, we are so far from such a state of affairs (as our government is vast and controls virtually every aspect of human life) that to discuss no state government at all is a bit artificial.

    On Christianity.

    Are Unitarians not Christian?

    John Adams denied the divinity of Jesus, but was still an intensely religious man (endless writing and talking about theology – something that “oddly enough” the HBO series on him did not stress).

    However, yes the mainstream of Christianity (at least since the defeat of the Arians – although what their theology actually was is hotly constested) has been in the “Jesus is God” camp (I don not see John’s Gospel as out of sync with that, but Tony may well know it better than I do).

    With a Muslim the matter is a bit more clear cut – a Muslim can not be a Christian, because the life and teachings of Mohammed are incompatible with the life and teachings of Jesus.

    The entire establishment from George Walker Bush (a mixed up social democrat – who the world falsely thinks of as a conservative) to Barack Obama (well you kn0w my view of Comrade Barack) passionatly deny this – but it remains the truth (that pesky objective reality thing again).

    For example, either it is acceptable to rape women and children one has taken captive or it is not. There have been plenty of Christian rapists (indeed Christians have committed every crime one can think of), but Jesus was not a rapist and he did not teach that rape was O.K. – Mohammed was (and a murderer and an enslaver and a slave dealer) and did teach that rape (and the other crimes) were O.K. if practiced against those who had not submitted to Islam.

    This is just one example of many – the basic positions of Mohammed and Jesus can not both be followed at the same time. They are incompatible – and not just for an individual, a society can not be based both on the teachings of Mohammed and those of Jesus, one must trump the other (in the end).

    And as Ian B. points out (in relation to Rothbard) in the end, on basic matters, general principles have no strength unless ENFORCED.

    Did Jesus teach pacfism in the face of evil? That is hotly debated – but certainly Rothbard did not do so (at least not in ordinary life – facing a criminal violator).

    If a person grabbed Rothbard’s wife and decided to rape her, I respect that Rothbard would have objected (regardless of the religious arguments the would be rapist presented). There was no relativism in Rothbard – and he believed that the basic non aggression principle of libertarians had to be ENFORCED, it was just that (as Ian points out) his explinations of how this would work in practice can be strongly disputed.

  159. By the way the grandfather of anarchocapitalism could be argued to be “Max Stirner” who famously did not believe that the wealth of the rich was alienating.

    However, many writers considered it in passing.

    Murry Rothbard claims (I think he claims in error) that Edmund Burke supported it in his work “The Vindication of Natural Society” (contrary to Rothbard it was not many years later that Burke said it was a satire on the idea of “natural religion” – it was in the introduction of the second edition of the work, published only the following year).

    However, in his “Appeal from the New Whigs to the Old” Burke does firmy state that if a government no longer exists property does NOT go into some common pot (as many French Revolutionaries claimed) – but remains with the existing owners. And that all their rights (the Burkian view of rights – not the political French Revolutionary view of them) remain.

    Although there is the little problem of enforcing these rights – which Burke (as a nonanarchist) does not bother discussing.

  160. I can’t make much sense of the doctrines of Arius — or any of the Trinitarian doctrines either. Catholic theologians say that to understand the Trinity is to understand Christianity. I’m an agnostic monotheist in these matters. I resonate with Taoism.


  161. Tony I have already cited a couple of detailed works (“Blacklisted by History” on McCarthy, and “The Obama Timeline” on Obama).

    M. Stanton Evans devoted years of his life to the study of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the period – and he is a very good researcher.

    Don Frederick is less good (not such a clear critical ability) – but he is classic “trainspotter” type, he has gathered up every scrap of intelligence on Barack Obama for years – and he is totally open with his sources (so one can check what is good and what is not good).

    I could cite other sources for both subjects or go into details.

    But if you would rather sneer than think…………. I think that is unworthy of you as you pride yourself (quite rightly) on keeping an open mind. Why not do so now?

    What is my problem (indeed the problem of the whole world) is that the “mainstream” media (in the United States and elsewhere) has chosen to ignore all the evidence aganist Barack Obama – indeed more than “ignore” it, they sneer at (and/or savagely attack) anyone who even mentions it.

    This does not astonish me – after all the education system (which has produced the people who now dominate the MSM – not just the journalists but the executives also) has been increasing perminated for decades – perminated with ideas and attitudes drawn partly from Italian tradition of Gramsci and partly from the German Frankfurt School of Marxism (which in America decided to go by more tame sounding school of social research).

    Few of the media types even know that the assumptions and doctrines they have been fed are Marxist – but it makes them utterly incapable (indeed unwilling) to do any real reseach.

    Practical example – they (the media types) automatically declare anyone who presents evidence against Barack as “paranoid” (without looking at the evidence). The more intellectual ones refer to the famous work by Richard Hofstader (of Columbia University) “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”.

    Richard Hofsader was a follower (a very close follower) of Theodor Adorno – the famous academic who “proved” that conservative beliefs were a form of mental illness (“The Authoritarian Personality” 1950).

    In reality Theodor Adorno was a Marxist (this is not disputed) an active agent of the Frankfurt School (the inventors of the doctrine of Political Correctness, idenity politics, because they believed the traditional working class had failed in its revolutionary role so new groups of people had to be involed in the struggle). He came to the United States but carried on his work – both directly and via people he groomed, such as Richard Hofstader.

    Please think of a big man with an axe, smashing his way into your home when you are with a few friends – and using the axe to kill one of your friends.

    He then turns and says the following…….

    “You people are paranoid – there are no such thing as axe murderers!”

    Two Marxists (Theodor Adorno and his follower Richard Hofstader – plus all the people who have followed them) saying “you people are paranoid (crazy, wingnuts…..), there are no such thing as Communists!”

    Do you really not see a problem with this Tony?

    And the msm think they are really smart and intellectual to apply doctrines got from the above source to the question of Barack Obama.

    If the above example is not blatent enough for you – who is the author of one of the leading teacher training works in the United States (used in all the elite colleges).

    Bill Ayers – the unrepentent Marxist terrorist.

    Ture he does not plant bombs any more (all that bending down would hurt his back these days) – but he does not regret anything he did (other than he wishes he had planted more bombs) and he hates the basic principles of the United States (indeed of Western “capitalist” society) as much as he ever did.

    The darling writers of the teacher training colleges and teacher unions – Bill Ayers and the late Saul Alinsky.

    How blatent do they have to be Tony?

    Do they have to go on marches chanting “Death to the West” before you see there is a problem?

    That is Barack Obama’s world – these are his people.

    Not “just” a matter of sitting in a Liberation Theology “Church” almost every week for 20 years (and being one of the closest associates of J. Wright). Or “just” working with Ayers for year after year in Chicago (do I need to go into the New York connection with Jeff Jones? The other Founder of the Weather Underground).

    Nor is it “just” having Frank Marshall Davis as a childhood mentor.

    Or “just” haveing both a mother and a father who were pro Soviet, and material grandparents who were also Reds.

    Most of the university writings are sealed (is that not odd in its self?), but “Dreams from my father” is in every book shop.

    Let us ignore the Kenya stuff (“he has to say that Paul – he has to honour his father to some extent”). O.K. What about the stuff on Indonesia – in which Barack gives a standard agitprop account.

    The people killed in 1966 only claimed to be in sympathy with Communists (not active members of the largest Communist party in the world outside the Communist block) the killing organized by the CIA – not a military and peasant (actually the peasants did most of the killing – as they believed that the Communists were in favour of collectivising their land, and they were) response to the Communist coup attempt (and on and on).

    If no piece of evidence convinces you (and I could go on for many pages – I have only scratched the surface above), what about all the evidence put together?

    At what point do you consider the possiblity that the person who has smashed into your house with a big axe and has used it to cut off the head of a friend visiting you – might actually be an axe murderer?

    Even though, yes, he has said “do not be PARANOID – there are no such things as axe murderers”.

  162. My lack of typing skill strikes yet again …. It should be “permeated” of course. I used this word, rather than “infiltrated” because (at this stage at least) it is IDEAS (not a few individual agents) that matter.

    Long ago the word “infiltrated” might have been correct when talking about academia (especially the bits of it most concerned with producing school teachers and journalists) – but now Marxist assumptions and doctrines (normally without the word “Marxist” attached) are mainstream. They are the default mode of much of the American educational system. It is saturated with them. This and the mass media it produces have given us Comrade Barack in the Whitehouse – not a Maxist whispering in the ear of the President (as in the time of FDR) but one in the big chair itself.

    There is now an organized fight back (led by the elected Texas Board of Education) but the words “too little, too late” are apt.

    “But there MUST have been critical voices in the mainstream media”

    There were Tony. To give a couple of examples…..

    John Stossel used to work for ABC.

    And (believe it or not) Glenn Beck used to work for CNN.

    They found that no one in their organizations was interested in what they had to say (no matter how much evidence they produced) – and their working environment became more and more limited (almost what we might call “constructive dismissal”).

    In the end there was only one place where such broadcasters could work.

    Why do you think that the entire left, from the President’s “Spiritual Adviser” the Marxist Jim Wallis, to the relatively moderate (although Norman Thomas was his childhood her0 – most boys do not have socialist politians, or any politician, as a hero) Jon Stewart, all beat the same drum?

    Fox News is evil! Do not watch Fox News! – We must find regulatory ways to close down Fox News!

    Why such fear and hatred of a single cable television station? A station that (because it is on cable and sat only) most people can not even see the shows on anyway.

    Because no dissent can be tolerated – ALL television stations (and so on) must deliver the same message of “Hope and Change” and how the “Fundemental Transformation of America” is something that everyone (bar “racists”) supports.

    Yet in spite of all this (the support of education system, the mainstream media, the entertainment industry…..) the collectivists are still losing public support.

    The ordinary person may not have cable television (or listen to talk radio or find stuff on the internet – or in books) – but he has his own personal experience.

    More and more “social justice” is not working – and the only response of the powers that be is to make government even BIGGER.

    The ordinary person knows that something is wrong. The policy fails – yet MORE of the policy (of bigger government is introduced).

    The tens of millions of people who now understand that something is wrong may have never have heard of “Cloward and Piven” (or know that these two Marxist academics taught Barack Obama at Columbia) but they understand the thesis of Cloward and Piven – even if they have never heard the names.

    Bankrupt the country – in order to bring down “the system” and fundementally transform the country.

    “Now that really is paranoid Paul”.

    Is it?

    Actually the husband and wife team of Cloward and Piven wrote that themselves – in their article in “The Nation” back in the 1960’s (and NO they never repented) and they remained the friends and close allies of those people now in power (indeed via people like Barney Frank in Congress, who ran rings around the brainless Bush, they have been in power de facto for years).

    If people TELL YOU WHAT THEY ARE GOING TO DO and then THEY DO IT. How is it “paranoid” to point it out?

  163. Paul:

    I have a photo of George G. Schmitz with two of his grand-children.

    The photo was taken in Schmitz’s house, which he owned. The house had belonged to Senator McCarthy. I helped his daughter Mary Kay from 1997 to 2004. She had been imprisoned for doing something no libertarian would find worthy of 89 months’ imprisonment. Her brother John Pat served as White House Counsel to Vice-President and President George H. W. Bush. Her other brother served as Inspector-General to the Department of Defense before becoming Chief Legal Officer to Blackwater International. Her father ran for President against Richard Nixon and served as Chairman of the John Birch Society. My “FX:” was pulling your leg, as you had mentioned Stanton Evers’ biography of McCarthy already.

    Colonel John G. Schmitz had a full Marine Corps funeral at Arlington National Cemetary, which the Goddamn prison refused to allow Mary Kay to attend. He formed the first Marine Corps helicopter squadron and the first Marine Corps fighter-bomber squadron, for which he deserves credit. He went on to teach proopaganda to the Marine Corps and retired as a full Colonel.

    My earliest political hero was Barry Goldwater, who mellowed over the course of a distinguished career. We corresponded during his time in the Senate. The best President America never had…

    I say this to ward off accusations of CompSymp tendencies. Smiles

    I think Adorno had some sound ideas, and I disagreed with Chris Tame over this.

    I cannot understand your belief that President Obama is some kind of crypto-Communist, on the basis of guilt by association. Chris Tame would merit the description for the people he knew. Chris had friends and associates around the political compass, as do I. No-one has a monopoly on philosophical and political wisdom. US leftists seem to be unhappy with President Obama’s performance thus far.


  164. The difference between Tame & Obama is that Tame was forthright about stating his disagreement with others, even his friends. Obama, on the other hand, has never said whether he disagrees with, e.g., Ayers, Khalidi, etc. He just revels in his own personal uniqueness as a sort of anti-Borg that allegedly never assimilates anyone else’s uniqueness into his own.

  165. On McCarthy – I apologize to you Tony.

    However, or your claim that I am just saying that Obama is a “crypto” Marxist because of “guilt by association”.

    If a man works with Marxists HIS ENTIRE LIFE (from his most early childhood to the present day) and if his entire corpus of work is saturated with Marxist assumptions.

    Then this is a lot more than “guilt by association”.

    Or as the late Chris Tame would have put it “this is a FUCKING lot more than guilt by association”.

    U.S. leftists unhappy with his performance so far – are you trying to pull my leg again?

    You know perfectly well that Marxists always fall out – it does not mean that any of the factions are friends.

    And many of the leftists who are unhappy with Obama are NOT Marxists – for example they are people who take the “peace campaign” seriously (rather than just seeing it as a tactic – as Marxists do) so they are horrified that the war in Afghanistan is continuing.

    Remember pacifism is just yet another “bourgeois fad” – Marxists do not go about crying over dead Americans in Afghanistan (or anywhere else).

    Ditto the homosexual rights crowd.

    From the Marxist (Frankfurt School at least) perspective – homosexuals are just cannon fodder (like ethnic minorities, women or any other idenity politics group – that the P.C. school thought might help compensate for the “failure” of much of the traditional working class to perform the revolutionary role).

    However, some people campaigning on homosexual rights are GENUINE (they really believe in this stuff – it is not a stunt to them). They look at Barack and they feel (somehow) that he does not have the same deep committment as they do.

    And they are correct – he does not (he will do X for X group – but only if it fits in with the wider agenda).

    The above is perfectly consistent with being a Marxist of the modern (Frankfurt School) type.

    But O.K. Tony you claim that Barack Obama is not a Marxist.


    Barack was a Marxist when his mother was giving him three hour poltical education sessions per day.

    He was a Marxist when his poltical education was undertaken by childhood mentor Frank Marshall Davis.

    He was a Marxist when he went to all those Marxist conferences whilst a Post Grad at Columbia in New York

    He was a Marxist when he worked with Bill Ayers and the rest of the Comrades in Chicago (indeed that is why he went to Chicago).

    He was a Marxist when he was the right hand man of Liberation Theology J. Wright for TWENTY YEARS.

    He was a Marxist when he sent Valerie Jarrett to personally hire Van Jones – “we have been watching you since you started your work in Oakland”.

    What was Van Jones’ work in Oakland? STORM (look it up).

    So (I repeat) when did Barack Obama stop being a Marxist?

    What was his turning point?

    When was his long dark night of the soul when the doubts (perhaps long below the surface) finally came upon in terrible anguish?

    Sorry but someone does not turn away from the beliefs of THEIR ENTIRE LIFE just because they have become President.

    And, anyway, Barack Obama continued to hire Marxists AFTER he became President (knowing exactly what they were – see above for the example of Van Jones).

    By the way Van Jones was NOT fired for his revolutionary Marxist activity or beliefs – he was forced out because of the 9/11 “truther” activity (which the media decided to run with – it was something even they could understand).

    I ask you again – when did Barack Obama go through the agony that comes with the rejection of long held beliefs? Of an entire view of the world and the place of mankind in it.

    What was his turning point?

  166. Paul:

    An intelligent Marxist would speed up the Revolution by doing everything possible to boost the economy and concentrate wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Marx claimed to be promulgating a science of social evolution, not a political programme.

    There are so many smears circulating on the Right about Obama that it would take years to evaluate them. “He wasn’t born in America”; “He’s a Muslim”; you know the stuff. He was born in Hawaii; and he and his family attend the Episcopalian Church. You tell me he’s a Marxist — well, maybe we need more Marxists… Smiles


  167. Just a personal request Tony, but is there any chance you could stop ending your posts with “smiles”? I don’t know what effect you intend to achieve, but it comes across as rather patronising.

    As to the question of Marxists, I recommend Paul Gottfried’s “The Strange Death Of Marxism” (quite a lot of it can be read via Google) where he shows quite conclusively that the modern left, whatever they may call themselves- including “Marixst”- aren’t actually marxist at all. Marxism, as a theory, is dead except among a few holdout stragglers. Whatever we’re up against- and as you know I have strong views on what it is- it isn’t Marxism.

    The problem with the Cultural Marxism Hypothesis is that it’s alluring but I don’t believe stands up to the evidence. Significantly, it’s a creation of American Ultra-Conservatives, and the purpose of it, in basic terms, is to explain the 1960s; and to do that they need to set a kind of year zero somewhere around 1950 when everything was perfect until those nasty foreign professors arrived and single-handedly destroyed the American Dream. It’s a nice tidy theory for people looking for such a simple explanation, but it’s not much use for us Libertarians looking for a deeper analysis.

    The appeal of it to American conservatives is that it is an exogenous theory. That is, everything is the fault of outsiders- those German Jews of the Frankfurt School. It’s all the fault of foreigners. No self-analysis required; no need to have any doubt in America itself. For an idealistic patriot who wants to believe that America is (or was, until about 1965) what it claims to be- the land of the Free, etc etc- that is very appealing.

    But one of the major problems with the CMH is simply the calendar. American statism didn’t start in 1965, American centralism didn’t start in 1965 and, indeed, we find that virtually all of the special interest groups of what we might call the “Gramscian Coalition” predate 1965 by, er, at least a century. Anti-racism from abolitionism, radical feminism (including its obsessions with sex and child saving) go back to Jane Addams et al (and Josephine Butler in England for instance). Gay rights goes back to the 19th Century Uranians and Fabians like Edward Pease. Environmentalism to Romantics in various nations. And so it goes on.

    The CMH tries to explain Cultural Marxism as the use of, basically, hedonism to destroy the fabric of society. The big problem with this is that the hedonism of the twentieth century broke out seriously not in the 1960s, but in the 1920s after WWI and the intense moralism of the C19, and we can trace it back earlier than that (e.g. to the moral panic in the USA about the supposed depravity of Atlantic City (and we find Woody Wilson engaged there trying to stamp it out, good Progressive that he was)). It was somewhat damped down by the Great Depression and then the War Years, then burst out again with the end of the war and return to prosperity in the 1950s in a very public way, as we all know.

    Marcuse’s Eros and Civilisation- the lynchpin of the CMH- was a Johnny-Come-Lately. It no doubt encouraged some of those young marxists that shagging around was a political act, but the shagging around wasn’t a response to the mitherings of Marcuse. People were already doing it. More significantly, if Marcuse’s ideals were being emplaced by the modern left, we would expect them all to be radical hedonists; but in fact the opposite is true. The modern left, driven notably by the spinster feminists like Mackinnon and Dworkin, are actively, fiercely anti-hedonistic, to the extent of declaring all sex to be rape, famously. They are about as far from Eros And Civilisation as it is possible to get. That is the sexual morality being rammed down our throats by the Left, not ultra-hedonism.

    So the CMH’s theory that the modern left are following Marcuse and his fellows in using amorality to batter down the previously moral western civilisation just doesn’t pan out. Neither, as Gottfried has shown, are our Enemy recognisably Marxist. I cannot think of a single significant Leftist- Brown or Blair or Harman or Obama or the Clintons- who show a single indication of seeking a Marxist state; the last thing they want is a Communism where power lies with Workers’ Councils. What they seek is IMV best described as philanthropic capitalism.

    The modern Left’s philosophy most closely fits to nineteenth century bourgeois socialism; the kind Marx specifically dissociated himself from in calling his idea “Communism”. They desire a State based on moralist philanthropy by the wise and wealthy. The model is Port Sunlight, not the Paris Commune.

    And, the Gramscian Revolutionary Technic is, I think, somewhat overrated. Stripped of its inevitable marxist jargon, it is simply the (correct) observation that some ideology will be dominant in any society, and to change the society you have to change that ideology. Anyone can use that understanding to their political advantage. It is not even terribly profound. The early Christians figured it out 2000 years ago, long before Gramsci (even if they didn’t write long dreary books explaining it), and that’s how Rome Christianised.

    Did the Frankfurt School have some influence? Sure. But the last laugh was on them. The marxists didn’t win. The Marxists were instead consumed by the older, more powerful socialism of the Anglosphere, which is commonly known as Progressivism. That’s why our masters are more interested in stopping us smoking than in the Means Of Production. The abandonment of Clause IV symbolised the final end of Marxism as a political force in our country, and it never was one in the USA. The Progressives beat the Marxists, hands down.

  168. Ian, the 1930s were far more Marxist, Leftist, Fabian, whatever, than anything more recent, surely?
    The New Deal was a substantial effort, and possibly the most effective one, in taking the “American Dream” (of what – self-sufficiency ?) apart.
    Yes, it comes down to elites (who know better) telling everyone else how to run their lives/to think/behave/eat, etc.
    I commented that perhaps a slogan of libertarians could be: “Back off!”
    Stop interfering and coercing.
    It’s possibly a disease cultivated in the universities – where everyone knows better?

  169. John, I think certainly there was quite a lot of Marxism around then. Its heyday was the early to mid twentieth century. But I think it’s an error to say “Marxist, Leftist, Fabian, whatever,” as if all socialisms are the same thing and especially, as in the CMH, to presume they are all Marxism.

    I think for us as outsiders looking in, it’s easy to see the Left as an homogenous mass, or want it to be, to make it simpler to handle and understand. It’s like somebody non-Christian looking at Christianity and seeing all the different groups and sects as much the same- Methodists and Lutherans and Calvinists and Presybyterians and so on, whereas a scholar of Christainity would see distinct and important differences.

    Bottom line is, I don’t think that Marxism is half as important in the story of Anglosphere socialism/statism as we might like it to be. Edward Carpenter (not Pease, I got my socialists mixed up)- a homosexual who promoted gay rights, vegetarianism, primitivism, mysticism and nudism- seems far closer to our modern left than any Marxist and his dictatorship of the proleteriat and so on. And all a very long time before Gramsci put pen to paper or the Frankfurt School.

  170. Tony – Marx wrote out his objectives/his beliefs (the early manuscripts) long before he did any of his “scientific” writing. But then you did say “claimed”.

    The Frankfurt School seemingly rejected classical Marxism (just as Gramsci in Italy seemingly rejected classical Marxism) because they both rejected economic determinism (the stuff you wrote out – the “scientific” theory of ever greater….) and because of their lack of stress on the industrial working class.

    But it is only “seemingly” because Karl Marx himself (as you most likely know) was not some sort of “social scientist”, he was just a collectivist filled with the lust for power – using any excuse for collectivism that he could cook up (for example if Gladstone said wages were rising Marx would “quote” Gladstone as admitting that wages were falling – and so on).

    The followers of Marx tend to be rather similar (in this) to the man himself. The tactics vary, the excuses vary – the objective (collectivism) does not. That is why I take Chris Tame line Adorno rather than yours – if there is any doubt as to whether a Marxist is being sincere or is just out to smear anti Marxists, I am going to assume they are out to smear anti Marxists.

    As for wild spending as a way of undermining the economy – actually it goes back further than the Marxist husband and wife team of Cloward and Piven (although YES these two were a direct influence on Barack Obama), with their doctrine of collapse the “system” – so that a new one can take over.

    Even back in the 1940’s Maurice Dobb and Pierro Straffa worked out ways of using Keynesianism for Marxist objectives. I doubt Keynes believed in anything (at least for more than a few days at a time), but that does not stop other people using (or abusing) the monetary crank ideas that he took from others (such as Major D. ) but made popular and respectable in academic and political circles, and some financial circles (partly by monetrary expansion VIA THE BANKING SYSTEM, which gives the banks a self interested reason to suppport monetary expansion, – whereas Major D. and the other older monetary cranks just wanted to hand out money to people directly).

    I sometimes suspect that Dobb and Straffa were inspired by some words of Keynes himself – not in the General Theory, but in the Economic Consequences of Peace, where Keynes cites Lenin as believeing that inflation (as in monetary expansion) is one of the most effective ways of “undermining the existing basis of society”, enlisting the power of economic law on the side of destruction in a way that “not one man in a million” can understand (academics tend to like the elitist touch – actually the majority of people can understand the destructive effects of monetary exapansion credit bubble finance, if the information is made available to them).

    As for Barack Obama – trained as a Marxist his whole life.

    Indeed a determinist (such as Dr Gabb) would argue that the man had no chance (I would argue there is always a chance – but I would have my work cut out for me in this case).

    Genetically (if there is such a thing as genetic politics) both his parents were Reds.

    And enviromentally he was educated by his mother (before she sent him back to grandmother – both the material grandparents were little Red Church members in the time in Washington State) for three hours a day.

    Then there was Frank Marshall Davis – childhood mentor. Red childhood mentor.

    Then there was Occidental (although there does seem ot have been a little youthful revolt in California – just as at his elite school in Hawaii, young Barack does seem to have spent quite a lot of time messing about). Then on to Columbia – back to the grindstone, hard Marxist training (hardly any student remembers him – because he was always off at Marxist conferences or detailed training with the Jeff Jones generation), then off to Chicago to join Bill Ayers and the other Comrades, then Harvard Law (a CV thing only – he got on by people pulling strings) then back to Chicago…… (given a job – one of many he is just given by the movement, he never published as an academic and he hardly practiced as a lawyer, the only clients being movement clients like ACORN).

    20 years of work – including supporting the Black Libertation Theology (really Liberation Theology with “Black” added on to trick some black people into supporting a Marxist agenda) of the Rev. J. “Audacity of Hope” Wright. And and on.

    Actually it is almost boring.

    Jonah Goldberg (a man who never felt any need to research Barack Obama – Hillary Clinton was BOUND to be the candidate you see, but then I made the same mistake J.G. made) wrote an interesting book on the various influences on the Ameican left (basically the cultural influences) the book is (of course) “Liberal Fascism” a classic, but utterly beside the point now.

    Beside the point because we (not just the United States – because the rest of the West can not stand if America falls) did not get a complex mixture of influences (Hillary), we got (basically) a fairly normal Frankfurt School Marxist – Barack Obama.

    Back in the 1930’s he would have carried a Communist Party card (that mistake, a formal membership structure, was something that McCarthy used on them – so you will not give a straight reply to the civil question “are you or have you ever been a Communist” well fortunatly we have this ….). In the 1940’s he would have been in the Progressive Party (H. L. M. described even the physical type when he reported on the P.P. Convention in 1948 – right down to the slim figure, slow movements, and soft voice).

    However, from at least the 1960s onwards the line was to work within the Democratic party in the hope of taking it over – basically the SDS line.

    The Weathermen (led by Barack’s old mentors Bill Ayers, Mrs Ayers, and Jeff Jones) tried violence – but by the time Barack was active they had given that up and returned to the standard SDS line. There were some Marxists too proud (or perhaps too honest – for not every Marxist is the dishonest old fraud that Karl was himself) to, for example, join the Daley Machine in Chicago – but Barack was not one of them.

    He followed the mainstrame Mr and Mrs Ayers line – join the machine, use its power and money (as Valerie Jarrett did) and climb every higher.

    For Barack’s corrupt activities see both “The Case Against Barack Obama” and “The Culture of Corruption” – whatever he is, Barack Obama is NOT someone who gives a toss about the poor (he just uses them as cannon fodder for the cause – no doubt he justifies directing money. that was supposedly for the poor, to the cause by holding that in the future society the poor will be so much better off…. for some reason that is never actually explained).

    No one is going to vote for Bill Ayers for President (at least there is no way to con 52% of voters to do so) – because he planted lots of bombs.

    But Barack (being a younger generation) did not plant bombs – and he is BLACK., so there is the “white guilt” factor to play on (which the “mainstream” media having been doing every day since 2004 – when Barack first ran for U.S. Senate).

    Do not say “Communism” say “hope and change” and “fundemental transformation”.

    Do not say “collectivism” – say “collective salvation” (the media will either agree with you, the Marxists among them will understand what this means, or, the time serving majority of the media, will just assume it is nice fluffy religion).

    Of course some people on the other side also knows what “collective salvation” actually means – but that sort of person is never going to vote for you anyway (and they will certainly not get to speak in the mainstream media).

  171. Of course what I say about Jonah Goldberg (a man whose work I greatly respect) also holds for Ian B.

    All these complex influences on the modern left – and yet we end up with Barack Obama, not rearly complex (indeed basically a from-central-casting Marxist) .

    We were prepared for complexity (Hillary) and we got Barack instead.

    We got sucker punched – we were not prepared for a blatent appeal to white guilt, or for someone who to say “look at the Fascist influences” would be absurd.

    Barack Obama is not someone who has gone “past” Marxism as Mussolini did (off to Sorel and so on), or broke with Saul Alinsky as Hillary did – Saul Alinsky offered Hillary the number two spot in the movement in Chicago, but she choose to go to Yale Law (not as a CV move like Barack at Harvard Law – but for real, to make her life in the establishment).

    Nor does Barack have the cultural connections to the United States that Hillary does (including the complex connections to the statist, but nationalist Progressive movement). Indeed the United States is basically an alien country to Barack.

    I was watched him on the Jay Leno show (hardly a tough place to be) – and Mr Leno made various casual cultural references. He must have gone off the agreed script because Barack’s face went blank.

    He did not know what Leno was talking about – he has less cultural knowledge of the United States than I do (and I am British).

    America might as well be the planet Tharg as far as Barack is concerned – Hillary is a swine, but she is an American swine (Barack is quite different).

    Barack Obama was NOT born in Kenya – but culturally he truly is the alien in the Whitehouse.

    Of course I can guess what sort of thing Dr Gabb would say about people who (out of a mixture of black racism [sorry if blacks come out and vote for someone who is black BECAUSE he is black – that is racism], white guilt, and stupid trust in the mainstream media) choose to vote for someone who was not only a Marxist determined to utterly destroy (what is left of) their principles, but also was not even culturally American.

    Yes I know there are various cultures in the United States – but Barack does not really fit well even into Progressive circles.

  172. Paul, once you take it as axiomatic that every collectivist is a marxist, you can indeed then circularly prove that every collectivist is a marxist. But I think the fact that you had to first prove that Marx himself wasn’t a “classical marxist” to get that axiom into place ought to give you at least a momentary pause for reflection.

    Bear in mind that we have to use the term “classical” liberal to disginguish ourselves from “modern” liberals who aren’t liberals at all. Likewise, once you have to admit that modern marxists aren’t “classical” marxists, it’s worth at least pondering that, likewise, they aren’t actually marxists, period.

    Progressivism is a different thing to Marxism. It is older than Marxism, it has different values and methods to Marxism, and it has survived Marxism’s demise. It is the Social Reform movements of the nineteenth century, which arose in Britain and America in the upper class, not in Germany under Marx. The current era, with its fierce moral code, economic model of philanthropic capitalism led by “enlightened” captains of industry (examples being the cultish devotion to, say, Apple and Google), and plethora of romantic/puritanical crankeries fits far more closely to a resurgance of the Victorian Anglosphere value system than to any recognisable variant of Marxism.

  173. No Ian – I have said the opposite above

    I have said that many collectivists are not Marxists (although I differ with Jonah Goldberg on the relative importance of Marxism in American leftist thought).

    I even pointed out how different Barack Obama is to many American Progressives (for example his history of hostility to the United States not to just to a specific policy, but to the very idea of America – and his just plain cultural ignorance, for example up to a couple of years ago it was clear he did not know what to do when the national anthem was played, I do not mean that he did not just know the words – it was more the “what are these strange sounds” look on his face).

    Barack Obama is not “every collectivist” he is one man. A man brought up and trained by Marxists (some of whose names I have given).

    If Barack ever stopped being a Marxist I want to know when this was and why.

    I ask again – when was Barack’s turning point?

  174. I am anti Hillary – but I will leave the examination of her the intellectual links of her attitudes and beliefs to Jonah Goldberg and others. Unless Hillary Clinton seeks elected office again she is not my concern.

    As for Barack – who knows what he would say, most likely make a little joke. Of only one thing can we be sure – he would not give an honest reply.

    Still the contrasts are worth noteing – not between Barack and Hillary (you do not want me to carry on about that, but between (for example) Joe Biden.

    Vice President Biden is not the moderate the msm presented him as in 2008 – actually (for example) he had the third most lefist voting record in the United States Senate, but he is nothing like Obama and I am NOT talking about race.

    The whole manner of the man (what he says, and the way he say it, everything) are different – Biden is wild spending leftist jerk, but he is not a Marxist.

    As for the Progressive moverment.

    What are people like Richard Ely (the founder of the Winsconsin school of progressivism – and the mentor to both Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson) to Obama – he is just a name (if that). His influence (for example of his nationalism) is zero.

    This is not recent – even the previous generation (Mr and Mrs Ayers – Jeff Jones and so on) could not have cared less about Richard Ely (or any of the American Progressive writers) – and the generation before that (the Frank Marshall Davis generation) could not have cared less either.

    “But Paul, this sort of person is NOT typical of the American left – the typical American leftist in academia and so on, DOES owe a lot to people like Richard Ely”.

    That may be true – but it is not true of the subset of people that Barack Obama has associated with his whole life. The people who brought him up and educated him were overwhelmingly from the Marxist (not the American Progressive) tradition.

    “But with his background Barack never stood a chance” – that may be true as well (although as a die hard believer in human agency, i.e. free will, I would still have to insist on his moral responsibility), but whether it is true or not it does not change the basic situation.

    The man sitting in the Whitehouse is what he is – hopeing the man was something else does not alter what he is (William James and co misunderstood the nature of truth – what is true is what is true, something being nice if it was true does not make it true “in a very real sense” or whatever – or, to put it bluntly, Pragmatism is crap).

    We are no longer dealing with a nonenity or even a person with good intentions but a woeful lack of understanding.

    Barack Obama is actively seeking to do harm – he is a foe. And not the same sort of foe as Richard Ely and co.

    Remember the weaknesses of Ely and co – genuine (if horribly distorted) love of country, and a drawing back at the very moment they (from the fully collectivist point of view).

    Ely had a sort of cultural hang up about full collectivism (deep down there was some Western cultural influence in him and the others – although weak and distorted). And politicians like FDR were the same – Roosevelt thought about a full dictatorship, he even actively helped with the script of revolting film (made by William Randolph Hurst) “Gabriel Over the Whitehouse” where “President Hammond” sets up a dictatorship and crushes evil big business (that he was himself a big businessman was something that slipped the mind of Hurst – some mega rich people, then and now, sound like students when they rant about “the rich” and how they should be crushed and never notice any contradiction between their words and their own position in life).

    But F.D.R. did not go the full mile – he stopped short. He did not even go as far as his mentor Woodrow Wilson “other self” E. M. House (the author of “Philip Dru: Administrator” the classic American Progressive fantasy novel), and neither did Wilson himself.

    They stop short – culture hangs on to them and they do not make the full effort.

    What Marxism (like other totalitarian doctrines) does is to “liberate from the moral chains of right and wrong” (from tradition and custom) so that there is litterally nothing that the statist will not do.

    For example there could have been no real “student power” (no SDS and its Weather Underground offshoot) with just American Progressivism.

    Remember Progressivism was full of respect for authority (espeically academic and political authority) – the police as “pigs”, liberal (left liberal) academics spat on, violently assualted and threatened with death (not just at Cornell – but at many universities), the setting up of organizations such as the ACORN alliance (with its tactics of street intimidation and total contempt for traditional centres of authority)…..

    None of these things could have come from just Progressivism – there has to be very different ideological influence to make them active.

    “But most academics remained Progressives NOT Marxists”

    Again I am not denying it – but “most academics” is not Barack Obama.

    The Progressives tolerated the Marxists (perhaps as Ian says – hopeing to use them), but there was a lady who went for a ride on a tiger……

    And it must be remembered that “the tiger” is not Barack Obama alone – there is a network of people who share his beliefs (some a lot older than him) who have helped him at every stage – because they see him as clean cut looking (and sounding) type, who can achieve things for the cause (basically helping push the destruction of the “old system”) that they never could.

    Never could because some nasty person (such as me) would shout out “that man planted bombs at the homes of policemen” (and so on) if they ever tried to get elected.

  175. Yes Tony – got it in one.

    Woodrow Wilson’s “Other Self”.

    A good example of the nonMarxist statist Progressive that Ian B. points out that I do not stress in the case of Barack Obama.

    I do not stress it because I think there is little direct influence on Barack Obama from this tradition – in this he may be (if Ian is correct about Anglo American statism generally) quite unusual. However, in academia (the source of Barack’s hard core support – hence the term “Hyde Park mafia” in Chicago for the people who backed him, “Hyde Park” being where the academics and other such live, although like all important factions in Chicago they are now part of the Daley Machine) Marxism is actually quite popular.

    The 1960s generation of radicals largely moved into academia – and they were inspired far more by the Marxist tradition than by the tradition of American Progressives like Colonel House (or Richard Ely or….).

    Of course my favourate member of the “Four Horsemen” (to use the name that the left gave to the four conservative judges on the American Supreme Court in the 1930’s) Justice Butler would not have been surprised by this.

    People often pointed at the supposed contradiction between Butler’s civil libertarianism (for example he was the only dissenter in both the sterilization case, and on the double jep of a murderer case – both in the 1920’s) and his supposed “political intolerance”.

    However, Butler did not agree that there was a contradiction.

    In the case of not allowing an immigrant to become a citizen if they would not sware the Oath of Alliegence (back in the 1920s) he was simply following the law – and the feudal law before that, and the Classical law before that.

    If a stranger comes to your city and wishes to become a citizen they must first bare true alliegence to their new city – and reject their old one (they can not have it both ways).

    And on in his time on the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota Butler argued that a University funded by the taxpayer did not have to employ people who wished to loot the taxyayer – that tenure should not be granted to people who were enemies of the principles of the United States (that not granting them tenure in no way “violated their rights” as they had no “right” to the money of the taxpayer), especially as he noted that some (not all) of these academics were switching from the doctrines of American Progressivism to imported Marxism with as little stress as a man changes his shirt.

    By the way the weird set up in Chicago (where every important faction of people, including business people, is connected with the ruling political party) reminds me a bit of what Scottish politics is supposed to be like (at least at one time) and what Mr Blair and Mr Brown seemed to be trying to build in the rest of Britain. A vast “Machine” where all factions were part of the same tent.

    Of course in the time of the first Mayor Daley Marxists were NOT welcome in the Chicago Machine – but after his death things changed, “all factions” came to mean just that.

  176. Paul, something to bear in mind when reading my waffle is that I’m using the term “progressive” more broadly than most other people do- virtually as a broad catch-all term for non-Marxist socialists, which I admit is somewhat circular reasoning. I’m just trying to emphasise a distinct anglospheric socialist tradition. I’ve suggested the term “Anglosocialist” in other places, but that’s a neologism so I’ve sort of relapsed into “progressive”.

    I think there are a number of distinctions. One of the primary ones is that Marxism treats the proleteriat as victims; that is they are good people ruined by evil capitalists. Anglosocialism treats people as the victims of their own errors. So a marxist says, “this man is poor because the capitalist steals his surplus value”; an Anglo says, “this man is poor because he spends his money on beer and dissolute behaviours”. Thus the imperative in Anglosocialism- which I believe is now dominant throughout the modern “Left” (and indeed most of the “Right”) is laws which (attempt to) reform the character and behaviour of the masses by regimenting a lifestyle.

    Another term for it could be simply “crank socialism” or, one I rather like, “Letchworth Socialism”. Betjeman lampooned it-

    In the Garden City Caf‚ with its murals on the wall
    Before a talk on “Sex and Civics” I meditated on the Fall…
    Deep depression settled on me under that electric glare
    While outside the lightsome poplars flanked the rose-beds in the square.
    While outside the carefree children sported in the summer haze
    And released their inhibitions in a hundred different ways.
    She who eats her greasy crumpets snugly in the inglenook
    Of some birch-enshrouded homestead, dropping butter on her book
    Can she know the deep depression of this bright, hygienic hell?
    And her husband, stout free-thinker, can he share in it as well?
    Not the folk-museum’s charting of man’s Progress out of slime
    Can release me from the painful seeming accident of Time.
    Barry smashes Shirley’s dolly, Shirley’s eyes are crossed with hate,
    Comrades plot a Comrade’s downfall “in the interests of the State”.
    Not my vegetarian dinner, not my lime-juice minus gin,
    Quite can drown a faint conviction that we may be born in Sin.

    GK Chesterton memorably described it as “all skittles and no beer”.

  177. “…switching from the doctrines of American Progressivism to imported Marxism with as little stress as a man changes his shirt.”

    Nice turn of phrase!


  178. Many thanks Tony.


    Well one possible distinction is that American Progressives viewed statism as for ever (Bellamy’s “Looking Backward”, E.H. House’s “Philip Dru: Administrator” and so on – none had statism as just a “stage” towards freedom where everyone could do as they liked).

    However, that falls apart now – because American Marxists also call themselves Progressives (which confuses everything).

    The stress on virtue – yes you have got something there.

    For example, Sandel (spelling alert) perhaps the best known American political philosopher (sitting in the Chair of Rawls at Harvard) is always going on about moral virtue and using the promotion of it to promote statism.

    For example, it is greedy to increase prices in the face of a natural clamity (earthquake, fire, flood….) so regardless of the economic effects, increasing prices should not be allowed because “we do not wish to promote greed” (a recent Ludwig Von Mises Institute posting reminded people just how warped Sandel is).

    I remember being shaken years ago, when I found out that the writers of “The Simpsons” were followers of Sandel (they had been students of his at Harvard and held him to be their guiding light).

    I know I rant on about how much American popular entertainment is (contrary to what is often said) full of statist messages and assumptions – but I was still shaken by so blatant and direct a link. Underneath the “ironic” attacks on (for example) Mr Burns and businessmen in general is a genuine attack on such people – we are meant to think “well this is a joke exaggeration, but……”

    It actually goes back to the “Middletown” (actually Munsie Indiana) studies of the 1920’s and 1930’s – sociologists were shocked to find that American workers did NOT tend to hate their employers, and that the poor did NOT tend to hate the rich in general (neither of these things changed during the Depression in “Middletown”). A vast amount of angst was generated in leftist (both normal American Progressive and Marxist) circles over these terrible findings – with endless thought about how such hatred could be created (Kevin Carsonism is, of course, one possible route to creating such hatred).

    For a cartoon series that does not take it as axiomatic that the promotion of hatred of the rich is a good thing (or the promotion of the statism as a moral enlightener, or that Greenism is good, or that……) see “King of the Hill” (set in Texas), perhaps the writers of this series are also on the left, but they are lot less blatent and propagandistic in their ways.

    Anyway back to Sandel:

    Sandel’s promotion of moral virtues via statism, might have come straight from Woodrow Wilson.

    However, Wilson did not really get his opinions from English Puritanism – he got them from Germany (via his education at Johns Hopkins). Not from Marxism – but from the older German tradition of State socialism. The extreme wing of the Cameralists and others.

    However, there tends to be more sceptical attitude towards a lot of this in Germany than there is the United States – and not just because of the Nazi experience. Bismark was vastly more cynical about the idea of the state as a source of moral transformation than Wilson was – partly because Bismark did not see writers like Hegel (actually a moderate in many ways – although given to unfortunate turns of phrase) as something exotic – they were German, but he was German (so they were nothing alien and special to be taken as Holy Writ).

    One can see this sort of thing even in architecture. If someone says “a new building most be in harmony with the sprit of the age – it must not be a pastiche” Anglo American “educated” people are likely to bow their heads in agreement, but a German might well say “you have cited Hegel in what you have just said – but why should I agree with him?”

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