Distinguished Capitalists

October 30, 2011

After initially disagreeing with me (by defending the idea that capitalism is fundamentally about “private ownership of the means of production” or POOTMOP), Stephan Kinsella conceded that for a system with “private ownership of the means of production” to count as capitalism, it must have certain features (emphasis mine):

If society adopted some kind of bizarre model with no firms, no division and specialization of labor, no significant accumulation of capital, I guess I would not call it capitalist.

Kinsella has now elaborated on that idea, fully embracing (along with Marx) the notion of “capitalistic patterns of ownership and control” as distinct from “a free market in land and the means of production,” including  “employers and employees and employment.” He sees the link as inevitable (as may, arguably, Marx and unlike me*) but at least we seem to agree that POOTMOP, by itself, is too vague to distinguish what capitalists mean by “capitalism” from what they don’t.

Glad that’s cleared up.

* I not only see it as not inevitable but unlibertarian and thus precluded conceptually by the term “free market.”

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13 Responses to “Distinguished Capitalists”

  1. Danny Says:

    Interesting… I wonder what sense of “libertarian” you have in mind when you say that capitalism is un-libertarian. So-called “libertarian” views which see libertarianism as a view about domination (e.g., libertarian socialism) will obviously arrive at that sort of conclusion. But views like those held by Rand, Rothbard, and the young Nozick are not about domination: they are about natural rights. And those views pretty clearly do not rule out capitalism — in fact, they pretty strongly endorse it. So it would seem like if you’re going to arrive at the conclusion that capitalism is un-libertarian, you’ll need to do so by basically ruling out the entire body of work that Kinsella identifies with and replacing it with a body of work that he presumably thinks is abominable. I would suggest taking the alternative path of saying that Kinsella’s brand of libertarianism is flawed, and that you find other (rather deeply unrelated) views which go by the name “libertarian” to be more plausible. That way, you wouldn’t have to say that you and Kinsella basically hold the same ethical views, but that you also disagree about what those ethical views say on even the most fundamental levels.

  2. Neverfox Says:

    Hi, Danny.

    But views like those held by Rand, Rothbard, and the young Nozick are not about domination: they are about natural rights. And those views pretty clearly do not rule out capitalism — in fact, they pretty strongly endorse it.

    This is precisely what I deny though. I take a natural rights view and think that is does rule out capitalism. My goal since the inception of this blog has been to make an anti-capitalist argument using only traditionally capitalist libertarian principles of property and exchange (though it does require coming down — contra Nozick but with Kinsella — on the side of inalienability of certain rights. But that’s hardly an “abominable” position outside of the realm of acceptable anarcho-capitalist premises). So I explicitly don’t want or need to draw from the domination theories of “libertarian socialism.” Those might well be good arguments but aren’t necessary for my purposes here.

    So, I’m saying that you can start from the “thinist” propertarian theories (as long as you also start with inalienability of libertarian rights, which people like Roderick Long, I think, have argued for brilliantly, without giving up his “Lockean” property theory) and get to anti-capitalism. A controversial stance, I’m sure, but nonetheless, it’s the one I’m making. Therefore, I don’t see any need for the qualifications you suggest. Part of what has been so amusing about the “entire body of work that Kinsella identifies with” is that I think it makes my point better than it does his. I don’t want to give that up; I want to embrace it. If you can make your argument with shared premises, your argument is that much more forceful. Wouldn’t you agree?

    I wrote this post precisely to point out that we don’t disagree on what capitalism means (which is something much more than free markets, private property, money, and exchange) so that it’s clear that I’m not playing word games, i.e. when I say I’m anti-capitalist, I mean capitalism like he does.

    I will say that I’m going out on a limb here with this idea. I don’t think many other left-libertarians are with me; it’s a lonely limb. If someone decisively convinces me to abandon this approach, then I would likely fall back to the positions of those like Long, Johnson, Carson, or Chartier because I think they are essentially correct. But ultimately they are positions about what free market principles lead to rather than what they preclude outright as unjust. For now I think the latter argument can be made, which makes the former unnecessary for the time being.

  3. Danny Says:

    Hmm…okay, that’s not what I thought you were doing, and it’s a lot more interesting. I’m not sure, though, that I totally see how the argument is going to go. Suppose that we grant that some rights are inalienable.* Also suppose that we maintain a standard libertarian-style Lockean theory of property that claims that a) the advent of money makes spoilage a non-issue, b) the enclosure of the commons radically enhances productivity, thus satisfying the “no prejudice” proviso by ensuring that late-comers are not worse-off for having missed out on initial appropriation, and c) private property is to be seen as an “extension of the self” in a relatively strong sense. And finally, suppose that we take a relatively absolutist stance on the inviolability of the individual, as I think most libertarians would. Those suppositions, I think, give us a pretty standard core for a libertarian theory. How do we get from there to a claim that capitalism is ruled out as a legitimate system of social organization?

    * I’m not sure exactly how this would be cashed out, and maybe Long is right to straddle a number of apparent accounts in the piece you reference. Is it because there are some things that are always wrong to do to people (e.g., it is wrong to have sex with an unwilling partner, even if they have made a contract with you that allows you to have sex with them whenever you want)? Or is it because it would be wrong to enforce a certain kind of contract (e.g., if someone sold me their right to self-defense against my advances, but then wanted to resist me, it would be wrong for the court to decide in my favor)? Or is it because allowing certain kinds of arrangements can symbolize the wrong things, as Nozick seemed to think later in his life (e.g., we want to have a society that stands for consent in romantic relationships, period)? I’m happy to say that the case against certain kinds of rights-transfers is overdetermined; the bigger worry is that grounding any of these kinds of arguments might commit us to things in the “thick” realm, and that might be a hang-up for some people.

  4. Derek Says:

    Neverfox, I take this to mean that you are advocating the true natural rights, private property market economy position (i.e., a labor-managed market economy, à la Ellerman). I think I’m out on that limb with you, although I prefer arguments based on capabilities as opposed to natural rights (à la Burczak).

  5. Neverfox Says:

    I haven’t read Burczak in a while so I don’t recall what he said about capabilities. Can you give me a quick refresher?

  6. Derek Says:

    So Burczak critiques natural rights on two points. First, rights are only legitimate insofar as they yield good consequences. Since there are competing systems of natural rights claims (for instance, Nozick vs. Ellerman) they must be judged on their consequences. Burczak uses the capabilities approach of Sen and Nussbaum to argue that only Ellerman’s position leads to human flourishing (in the Aristotelian sense of eudaimonia). Second, there is no room in a natural rights position for concerns of distributive justice. Burczak argues that reorienting Ellerman’s normative framework of the labor theory of property with the capabilities approach allows for both appropriative and distributive justice. For these reasons (and since I am a pragmatist in philosophy and thus a consequentialist in ethics) I prefer Burczak’s ethical arguments, based on capabilities, against wage labor and capitalist private property.


  7. “First, rights are only legitimate insofar as they yield good consequences.”

    Ho-hum. How do you measure these so-called consequences?

  8. Derek Says:

    Consequences are measured by how they affect capabilities, which is defined as the real opportunities a person has to lead a life they have reason to value. Interpreting this ethical framework from an anarchist perspective one can argue that the kind of natural rights that Neverfox and Ellerman advocate enhance or expand capabilities since they preclude wage labor. In other words, wage labor and capitalist private property diminish the real opportunities a person has to lead a life they have reason to value. I am not aware of any explicit anarchist use of the capabilities approach of Sen and Nussbaum but Bookchin has written along similar lines from a shared Aristotelian basis.


  9. How do you measure or evaluate these “opportunities”?

  10. Derek Says:

    Well, Nussbaum has a list of what she views as ten basic capabilities (which can be found here). So from that one can evaluate whether or not social and economic institutions are enhancing capabilities (if this is what you mean by your question). Wage labor, for example, diminishes capabilities because it turns people into things and denies people control over their workplace environment. I recommend this article that may offer a better explanation.

  11. Neverfox Says:

    @Derek

    First, rights are only legitimate insofar as they yield good consequences.

    Doesn’t that beg the question?

    Since there are competing systems of natural rights claims (for instance, Nozick vs. Ellerman) they must be judged on their consequences.

    Why must that be the only way they can be judged? Why not, say, how they fair under a coherentist, reflective-equilibration approach to moral reasoning?

    Second, there is no room in a natural rights position for concerns of distributive justice.

    Again, this strikes me as question-begging (and wrong for being overly narrow in denying that natural rights positions can find consequences relevant, if not decisive) because it presupposes that what is important in deciding between natural rights and consequentialism is consequences, i.e. a certain pattern of distribution.

    If you’re interested in why I reject consequentialism (though not consequences entirely, for they are, as Long points out, “relevant to moral assessment, even if they do not exhaust the domain of what is thus relevant” and that “one can give utilitarian considerations quite a strong weight and still defend both common-sense morality and a libertarian social order.”) in favor of Classical Eudaimonist, coherentist virtue-ethics, there are two pieces by Roderick Long that are particularly relevant:

    “Review of Leland Yeager’s Ethics as a Social Science (Burczak’s approach strikes me as falling into the indirect-consequentialism camp because, as you say, “the kind of natural rights that Neverfox and Ellerman advocate enhance or expand capabilities” and that is why one should stick to those principles. But at that point, are you really doing consequentialism anymore or have you “kicked out the ladder” so to speak?)

    “Why Does Justice Have Good Consequences?”

    I am a pragmatist in philosophy and thus a consequentialist in ethics

    Since we’re sharing, I am a realist in philosophy and a virtue ethicist.

  12. Derek Says:

    I think I should have said that I adhered to a teleological ethics, not necessarily consequentialism (and I’m certainly not a utilitarian). Both pragmatist and virtue ethics are teleological so they do have that in common, although from what I understand the former focuses on the social and the latter on the individual. I am not as well read in ethics as I am in economics so I will definitely check out those articles.


  13. […] minutes he goes over how he defines capitalism: the private ownership of the means of production (pootmop), resources are exchanged voluntarily (market exchange)… he then goes on to describe […]


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