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.”

Grammar as Virtue

October 25, 2010

Seen today on Facebook:

[My] #1 grammatical pet peeve: when people say “literally” and it’s not, such as: “walking into my room is like walking through a minefield, literally.”

Calling Hyacinth Bucket!

To quote Charles Johnson at length (from another Facebook conversation in which he took me to task for choosing “you and I both” over “you and me both”):

I don’t think you’re misapplying the rule; but I think the rule itself is counterfeit rather than genuine English grammar, and that the results in this case are bad English… 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 »

Flowers for the Sick

January 28, 2010

Margaret Flowers, M.D. responds to the SOTU in an open letter to Barack Obama:

There was an opportunity this past year to create universal and financially-sustainable health care reform rather than expensive health insurance reform.

Flowers is talking about single-payer or as she likes to call it (in a move I suppose she intends to be an argument in its favor) “Medicare-for-All.” This was followed closely by:

This poor value for our health care dollar is due to the waste of having so many insurance companies.

So on the one hand, Flowers gets that health care and health insurance are two different things. But then she thinks that health care value is bad because of health insurance competition. Read the rest of this entry »

Sublime Failure

October 8, 2009

William Gillis posed this question today on his Facebook profile:

A communist with some degree of knowledge on the subject once told me that what defined anarchists and anarchism was a total incapacity for any form of acceptance. In short, our affinity for valiant loosing battles was not indicative of any moral superiority, but rather a strange psychological — and possibly neurological — handicap when it came to surrender. Ignoring the source, what say you?

I’m inclined to take a different angle and agree with Guyau that, far from a handicap, it is “a medium useful for the development of life itself” “raised into sublimity”, that it instead represents what is well and good about being human, a virtue, as long as it is considered in unity with other virtues, such as reason. But the success of the struggle itself is not what makes the goal rational or a sign of flourishing in the individual, I think.

It is rare that real sacrifices present themselves in life as certain. The soldier, for instance, is not certain of falling in the fight; far from it: there is here only a mere possibility. In other words, there is danger. Now, it is necessary to see if danger, even independently of all idea of moral obligation, is not a medium useful for the development of life itself—a powerful stimulant of all the faculties, capable of carrying them to their maximum of energy, and capable also of producing a maximum of pleasure…

Let us note that the pleasure of contest alters its form without disappearing, be it in the struggle with an animated being (war or chase), or in the struggle with visible obstacles (sea, mountain), or in the struggle with invisible things (illness to be cured, difficulties of all sorts to be conquered). The struggle always partakes of the same character—that of a passionate duel. In truth, the doctor who starts for Senegal has decided upon a kind of duel with the yellow fever. The struggle passes from the domain of things physical to the intellectual domain, without losing anything of its ardour or of its fascination. The struggle may also pass into the special domain of morals. There is an inward struggle between the will and the passions, as captivating as any other, and in which the victory brings an infinite joy…


In short, man [sic] needs to feel himself great, in order now and again to have full consciousness of the sublimity of his will. This consciousness he gets in struggle—struggle with himself, with his passions, or with material and intellectual obstacles. Now, this struggle to satisfy our reason must have an aim. Man [sic] is too rational a being to fully approve of the monkeys of Cambodia playing for fun with the jaws of the crocodile, or of the Englishman Baldwin going into the heart of Africa for the pleasure of hunting. The intoxication of danger exists at times in everyone of us, even in the most timid; but this instinct of danger requires to be more reasonably exercised. Although, in many cases, there is only a superficial difference
between temerity and courage, he who, for instance, dies for his country is conscious of not having accomplished an idle deed. The need of danger and of struggle, on condition of it being thus directed and utilized by reason, assumes a moral importance all the greater, as it is one of the rare instincts which have no fixed direction. It may be used without resistance for any social end…

Moreover, danger in endless shades and degrees—from the danger of losing one’s life to the danger of losing one’s money—remains one of the important features of social existence. There is not a movement in the social body which does not imply a risk. And intelligent boldness to run this risk identifies itself up to a certain point with the very instinct of progress, and liberalism; while the fear of danger identifies
itself with the conservative instinct, which, after all, is always doomed to be beaten as long as the world exists and progresses. Thus, in the danger incurred on behalf of somebody (myself or some one else), there is nothing contrary to the deep instincts and laws of life. Far from it; to expose one’s self to danger is something normal in a morally well-constituted individual; to expose one’s self to danger for the sake of others is but going a step further on the same road…


From this side self-sacrifice again takes its place among the general laws of life, from which it at first seemed to completely escape. The peril confronted for oneself or for others—intrepidity or self-sacrifice—is not a mere negation of self and of personal life; it is this life itself raised into sublimity. The sublime in ethics, as well as in aesthetics, at first seems to be in contradiction to the order constituting the beautiful; but this is only a superficial contradiction. The roots of the sublime and the beautiful are the same, and the intensity of feeling which it pre-supposes does not prevent a certain inward rationality.

Jean-Marie Guyau’s A Sketch of Morality Independent of Obligation and Sanction

And I didn’t pay a cent.

I shall call it Instead of a Blog: By a Man Too Busy to Write One.

There you go. It’s done. The first post is out of the way. The once unblemished site, like a new book finally cracked, has been sullied, marked, tussled about. I’ve driven it off the lot. I’ve mixed my labor with it. Opened items cannot be returned.

Here goes nothing…