In the many discussions I’ve been in where I’ve argued against capital hiring labor and in favor of labor hiring capital, inevitably someone poses a question like the following:

“This contract [wherein labor hires capital] can say just about anything, stipulating how the capital is used down to any detail. How is this different from an employment contract?”

Well, if the details in question go as far as being functionally identical to employment, it wouldn’t be very different. In fact, it would be an employment contract. What makes a contract an employment contract isn’t that the words “Employment Contract” are written at the top. What a contract is or isn’t is going to be a matter of the reality of the situation it brings about. So if employment contracts are not seen as valid contracts in a given society, then they can’t “say just about anything, stipulating how the capital is used down to any detail.” It’s not about avoiding the “magic words” but about actually eliminating the renting of people, explicitly or through legal gamesmanship.


In the Mutualism group on Facebook, a user posted the following Proudhon quotation:

‎”Every possessor of lands, houses, furniture, machinery, tools, money, &c., who lends a thing for a price exceeding the cost of repairs (the repairs being charged to the lender, and representing products which he exchanges for other products), is guilty of swindling and extortion.” – Proudhon

The quotation was accompanied by a skeptical set of examples (following Proudhon’s list) meant to appeal to the reader’s intuition and, I presume, lead them to conclude that Proudhon was full of it and that there is nothing wrong with charging for the use of something you own. The upshot is that today’s mutualists, if they agree with Proudhon, are full of it too. Read the rest of this entry »

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.”

Nanny State

June 7, 2010

It can be a very effective technique in debate to take your opponent’s statement and reword it to make your own point. Steven Landsburg shares with us what he would have written if he had been the writer for a New York Times article on New York State’s proposed minimum wage law for nannies (emphasis added):

New York state may soon become the first state to restrict employment opportunities for nannies.

The state Senate passed a bill this week that would prohibit New York’s approximately 200,000 household workers from accepting any position that does not include paid holidays, overtime pay and sick days.

Opponents say the step will bring unnecessary hardship to thousands of women—and some men—who have found employment because of labor markets that operate freely, except for constraints imposed by the federal minimum wage.

Yes, if only they wouldn’t pass this minimum wage law, we could get back to the free market. As Kevin Carson might say, “Jesus, vulgar much?”: Read the rest of this entry »

Charles Johnson, Gary Chartier, Steven Horwitz, Sheldon Richman, and Roderick Long at APEE's Free-Market Anti-Capitalism panel in Las Vegas, 13 April 2010

More Things, Horatio

April 22, 2010

I was asked by a few interested people to expand on my last post. There was also some discussion that took place on Facebook around Stephan Kinsella’s reply. At one point in that discussion, Stephan asked me a question that I think gets at the heart of the matter. I thought I would answer it here (with Stephan’s blessing) to kill two birds with one stone.

When we are careful to define capitalism in a non-crony, non-corporatist way, to refer to private ownership of the means of production — and you say you are STILL against it, how can this not be construed as unlibertarian? Please explain.

-Stephan Kinsella, in conversation on Facebook

The short answer is that it should be obvious from the fact that I call myself a “free market anti-capitalist” that I’m not against “private ownership of the means of production,” assuming it entails what I think it entails.  What I’m against are some of the things that you think it entails. But rather than this meaning that we have two different visions of capitalism, I’m assuming that you wouldn’t call my vision capitalism at all. Read the rest of this entry »

What some left-”libertarians” oppose is the economic order most standard libertarians favor and expect to accompany an advanced free society–whatever word you slap on it. Thus they go on about mutual aid, wildcat strikes, the workers, localism, self-sufficiency, they condemn the division of labor, mass production, factories, employment, firms, corporations, “hierarchy,” international trade, not to mention “distant” ownership, landlordism, “alienation,” industrialism, and the like. Their agenda is not required by libertarianism–most of it is not even compatible with it, I’d say, so is unlibertarian. But this is a debate we can have–it’s on substance. I think this is a large motivation for their hostility to the word “capitalism”–they mean capitalism like we do, and dislike it. I don’t mean crony capitalism–but actual libertarian-compatible laissez-faire capitalism. They want libertarians to stop saying capitalism because they want us to adopt their substantive unlibertarian, Marxian agenda. Yet they pretend it’s just for strategical or lexical concerns–which it’s not. This is yet another reason I think we should dig our heels in and not give in: they will then count it as a substantive victory for unlibertarian, leftist ideas.

-Stephan Kinsella, quoted by Juan Fernando Carpio

Stephan Kinsella is right about one thing: the reason I’m a free-market anti-capitalist is because I have substantive differences with him and other “standard libertarians.” To the extent that my friends on the libertarian-left are making linguistic and strategic arguments against the word ‘capitalism’ (and I’m not convinced that all of them are or that none of their arguments have a substantive element), I don’t have much of a dog in that fight.

But if Kinsella thinks this is a gotcha, a deep insight into our hidden agenda, then let me be clear: I mean capitalism like you do, and dislike it. As I said, there is no pretending it’s only “strategical or lexical” here.

Where I disagree with Kinsella is about who, exactly, is being “unlibertarian and Marxian.” Well, ‘Marxian’ is a bit unfair but capitalism and Marxism share in a fundamental myth that I reject, so in that sense, I’m further from Marxism than Stephan.

OK, that’s a cheap shot. But it is a debate we can and should have.  I’m not going to start it here because I’ve already talked about it elsewhere and I just wanted to use this space to make my position clear. In the meantime, calling all haters of “anarcho”-capitalism

Bryan Caplan writes:

Most libertarians condemn the public’s anti-market reflexes. Left-libertarians reply, in essence, is: “It’s only natural for the public to condemn the unholy alliance of big business and big government that passes for ‘the free market’ nowadays.”

The key problem with this position: Normal people think that government is the solution, not the cause, of monopoly problems.  Before I studied economics, I repeatedly heard about government’s struggle against monopoly – and never heard that government might be part of the problem.  I’ve been arguing about monopoly for two decades – and teaching about monopoly for the last thirteen years.  As far as I can tell, the idea that government habitually creates monopolies on purpose is largely limited to free-market economists and the hard left.

It’s a perfectly valid argument. There’s only one problem. I don’t know of any left-libertarian that actually argues anything close to the “in essence” reply Caplan claims: that left-libertarians say that normal people are largely against the free-market because they are aware that it is really an “unholy alliance of big business and big government.” Read the rest of this entry »

Underdog Daze

February 7, 2010

Tom Naughton can’t decide between cheering for the Colt or the Saints today. I completely understand because I’m in the same position. I’m a regular fan of neither but they are both likable, talented teams. While I love pro football, it’s not quite as fun to watch when you don’t have a side to cheer.

I’m originally from Louisiana and have always thought the Saints were cool. But I also appreciate the Colts more from a pure football perspective. Peyton Manning is a great example of intelligence in the game. On the other hand, Reggie Bush is pure excitement. Or I could let my wife’s favorite criteria decide: the Saints have better uniforms. I’m torn.

But Naughton thinks there is at least one good reason not to pick the Saints: Read the rest of this entry »

Capital as Power

May 26, 2009

No, this is not going to be a magnum opus about the evils of capitalism. It is instead an announcement of someone else’s magnum opus about the evils of capitalism (or so I gather).

Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler are releasing their new book, Capital as Power: A Study of Order and Creorder, discussing their alternative theory of capital, the power theory of value (in opposition to utility or labor theories). Taking their lead from the Institutional school of economics (the old one; think Veblen), they propose a theory of capital as the quantification of power measured by differential accumulation. Read the rest of this entry »