A look at Mutualism

I was recently asked by a twitter friend what I thought of “mutualists”. My first thought was to say that it all depends on what you mean by “mutualists”. Then I thought about just directing him to one of my past posts on “Syndicalists” but that would not have been fair since a syndicalist is not a mutualist; at least so far as I understand the terms. So, I decided it was time here, once again, to take a look at the left-libertarians: this time “mutualists”.

Mutualism is a theory of societal organization based on the labor theory of value which teaches that when labor or its product is sold or exchanged then one ought to receive back goods or services that were produced with the same amount of labor necessary to produce the article or service that the person offered for trade. Or, in other words, the labor theory of value teaches that the value of final production rests on the labor amount of the inputs. In the 1800s Carl Menger showed that this is the exact opposite of reality. The price of a factor input is based on competitive bidding by producers who use their subjective evaluations based on what they think the factor is worth to them; and so entrepreneurs bid up prices because of their expectation of greater revenues in the future. And so, Mutualists base their theories entirely on an economic fallacy.

As they say themselves:

Our ultimate vision is of a society in which the economy is organized around free market exchange between producers, and production is carried out mainly by self-employed artisans and farmers, small producers’ cooperatives, worker-controlled large enterprises, and consumers’ cooperatives. To the extent that wage labor still exists (which is likely, if we do not coercively suppress it), the removal of statist privileges will result in the worker’s natural wage, as Benjamin Tucker put it, being his full product.

Mutualists claim to believe in private property, but only so long as it is based on personal occupancy and use. They believe that if a property owner rents out or leases any property then the renter may just steal the land as “absentee landlords” have no rights at all. Thus they deny that we should honor contracts! This is a philosophy of theft. And as I have noted elsewhere, how does a “worker controlled factory” operate if one guy gets to sit behind the big desk while another guy has clean the men’s room? Who the hell decides on that? Does the hard working janitor get more “money” since he inputs more labor? (what the hell is “money” to these people anyway?)

It is brutally obvious that the mutualists, if they were in control, would be unable to get the population to act as they would have them act without the sort of force and brutality that the old USSR had to resort to. There is no way that people will value an item based on the labor that was input into its manufacture. People base their evaluations on their subjective notions of its marginal utility to them; and add to that the law of supply and demand. One can labor greatly making an item that no one wants and it will have no value to others. That is just the facts of life folks. And the idea of factories run by a “democracy” made up of its workers has never worked in the real world even though such a system could be tried right now in most countries of the world. It just does not work.

Like all modern terms, there will be disagreements on what, exactly, mutualism means, but It seems that some “mutualists” want only individual tradesmen or very tiny business concerns to exist. This shows a profound ignorance of economics, or else they want to see 7 billion humans die off due to destroying the industrial society that feeds us. The iron law of the division of labor can not be repealed. Anarcho-capitalists, anarcho-libertarians, or market anarchists, on the other hand, are not opposed to the corporation itself, but are opposed to the government granted special privileges that enrich them under our present crony-capitalist model. Of course, some mutualists think a factory can be OK as long as all the workers are paid according to the amount of their labor inputs — regardless of the value of said labor. It is as if a kid in Algebra class gets paid with an A for doing page after page of wrong calculations and the kid that got the right answer in three lines gets an F.

The “market,” in the sense of exchanges of labor between producers, is a profoundly humanizing and liberating concept.

As the quote indicates, these people can only see “the market” in terms of producers trading hours of labor. A short look at the differing pay rates in the NFL here in America will show one that people earn what they are worth, not how much “labor” is put forth.

Many left-anarchists are anti-war and that is great, but unless you are pro-market and pro-private property you are not really an enemy of the state. The state, you see, is the institutionalized agent of aggression against private property rights which forms the basis of liberty of the individual and the market. But we often we find that “mutualists” or “syndicalists” are just pseudo-anarchists who are hostile to free markets and private property rights. Yes, yes, they sometimes claim to love the free market but only if they get to control the market and make everyone do as they say. So much for freedom, eh?

No matter the label, if the “mutualist”, “syndicalist”, “left-anarchist”, or what have you is willing to concede that no force should be used to dictate their Utopian vision on the rest of us and that people should be free to trade without any coercion from any group then I can support their right to go try their wrong-headed ideas out someplace. Let the market decide how people will act after we do away with the beast called the state. Of course, the only way to stop coercion and have peaceful, voluntary cooperation is for the property rights of the individual to be respected at all times. I hope the mutualists understand that, but it is obvious some of them don’t.

Sometimes I talk to mutualists or syndicalists and find that they are simply against the corporation as it exists in our economic system now. Market anarchists like myself are also against the crony-capitalist system we have now. Many of our large corporations are given all sorts of special privilege, favorable regulations, grants, and other give-aways under our current government. But that issue is not the same as saying that the corporate form of organization is inherently bad. We can, however, agree that the present corporate welfare is as bad if not worse than welfare for the individuals.

One very sticky point with many on the left is the idea of “limited liability” of corporations. Typically they don’t understand the issue.

Rothbard:

… None of this means that tort law itself is in no need of reform. The problem is not really quantitative but qualitative: who should be liable for what damages? In particular, we must put an end to the theory of ”vicarious liability,” i.e., that people or groups are liable, not because their actions incurred damages, but simply because they happened to be nearby and are conveniently wealthy, i.e., in the apt if inelegant legal phrase, they happily possess “deep pockets.”

Thus, if we bought a product from a retailer and the product is defective, it is the retailer that should be liable and not the manufacturer, since we did not make a contract with the manufacturer (unless he placed an explicit warranty upon the product). It is the retailer’s business to sue the wholesaler, the latter the manufacturer, etc., provided the latter really did break his contract by providing a defective product.

Similarly, if a corporate manager committed a wrong and damaged the person or property of others, there is no reason but “deep pockets” to make the stockholders pay, provided that the latter were innocent and did not order the manager to engage in these tortious actions.

To the extent, then, that cries about an insurance crisis reflect an increased propensity by juries to sock it to “soul-less corporations,” i.e., to the stockholders, then the remedy is to take that right away from them by changing tort law to make liable only those actually committing wrongful acts.

Let liability, in short, be full and complete; but let it rest only upon those at fault, i.e., those actually damaging the persons and property of others.

I conclude that I can’t be a “mutualist” since I have read too much economics and economic history. The mutualists want to try the idea of collectives joined somehow with mostly individual tradesmen. I wish them all the luck in the world with that but I know that the division of labor leads to the greatest wealth for the greatest number of people. They want to believe that labor forms the basis for value but that is just an often debunked fallacy. A dangerous fallacy at that. And, unfortunately, there are many mutualists who applaud and promote blatant theft of other people’s property. I hope they are a minority in the movement but I fear that theft of property is an inherent part of mutualism.

So, what do I think of “mutualism”? Not much given what I understand of their philosophy. I do agree with many of their ideas as long as we are talking about a system with no coercion that allows mutual, voluntary, free-will cooperation among people — but we already have a term for that and that term is market anarchy or anarcho-capitalism.

UPDATE: Since Dr. Long wanted more citations, here (first and second) are a couple by Stephan Kinsella that I have long thought very good on the certain aspects of this topic.

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31 thoughts on “A look at Mutualism

  1. In future, if you’re going to discuss mutualism it might be a good idea to read a bit of what mutualists themselves actually say, rather than relying almost solely on hostile and inaccurate summaries by non-mutualists.

    • Had you followed the links you would have seen that I used as my main source a site called “Mutualist.org”. So are they some kind of stealth anti-Mutualists posing as mutualists? I think not.

      It would be nice to hear from you on what, exactly, I got wrong if anything rather than just whining that I should read something from mutualists. I did read both the mutualist.org site and the wikipedia entry besides the twitter mutualists that are forever telling me that no one may own property unless they are on it. Madness.

      • “Had you followed the links you would have seen that I used as my main source a site called ‘Mutualist.org'”

        Yes, I saw that you had linked to Kevin’s site. But from what you went on to say I inferred that you hadn’t read much of anything from it.

        “It would be nice to hear from you on what, exactly, I got wrong if anything”

        Almost every sentence in your post is wrong.

        “the labor theory of value which teaches that when labor or its product is sold or exchanged then one ought to receive back goods or services that were produced with the same amount of labor necessary to produce the article or service that the person offered for trade”

        No. The labor theory of value is a descriptive claim, not a normative one. It doesn’t prescribe how people ought to trade, it explains the process of price-formation. And the version of the labor theory of value accepted by most contemporary mutualists — the one described at length at Mutualist.org — does not turn on the “same amount” of labor.

        “The price of a factor input is based on competitive bidding by producers who use their subjective evaluations based on what they think the factor is worth to them”

        Right; and if you had read the account of the labor theory of value at Mutualist.org, you would see that it is a subjectivised account, perfectly compatible with what you’ve said.

        I don’t myself accept the labor theory, for reasons I explain here — http://praxeology.net/FB-PJP-DOI-Appx.htm — but the mutualist version is far more sophisticated than the crude strawman you’re beating up on.

        “Thus they deny that we should honor contracts!”

        Every libertarian denied that we should honor some contracts. For example, all libertarians hold that you should not fulfill a homicide contract. Most libertarians deny that you should honor slavery contracts. To decide which contracts are legitimate and which are not, we need to determine which rights are alienable and which are not. To do that, we need to look at the actual arguments on each side. Mutualist.org contains arguments as to why absentee-landlord contracts should not be legitimate. You don’t explain what their argument is or why you disagree with it, so you don’t seem to be seriously engaging with the topic.

        “This is a philosophy of theft.”

        The mutualist theory of property rights differs from, say, the Rothbardian one in having different rules for acquisition and transfer. Acting on mutualist rules looks like theft to Rothbardians; acting on Rothbardian ones looks like theft to mutualists. Mutualist.org contains arguments for the mutualist theory of property rights. Until you engage with those arguments, it’s question-begging to dismiss mutualism as a philosophy of theft, just as it would be question-begging for a mutualist to dismiss Rothbardianism as a philosophy of theft without addressing Rothbardian arguments.

        Again, I don’t accept the mutualist ban on absentee landlordism, for reasons I explain here — https://mises.org/journals/jls/20_1/20_1_6.pdf — and Kevin himself has mellowed on it, see here — http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/04/in-defense-such-as-it-is-of-usufructory-land-ownership — but I think it deserves more respect than you’ve given it (at least reading the arguments for it, say?).

        “there are many mutualists who applaud and promote blatant theft of other people’s property”

        Your citation for this claim is nothing by a mutualist; instead it’s an article by George Reisman, who is a self-appointed one-man hit squad against mutualism, and whose article is famous for being one of the most embarrassingly inaccurate and irresponsible pieces ever written on the subject. It’s a bit like saying “most Jews and Protestants are thieves and liars,” and then citing as evidence an article by the Lord of the Spanish Inquisition.

        See Kevin’s discussion of Reisman’s howlers here: http://www.mises.org/journals/jls/20_1/20_1_7.pdf
        and here: http://mutualist.blogspot.com/2006/12/contra-reisman-compendium-of-posts.html

        “how does a ‘worker controlled factory’ operate if one guy gets to sit behind the big desk while another guy has clean the men’s room? Who the hell decides on that?”

        You ask these questions as though there weren’t successful worker-owned cooperatives all over the world. It’s the equivalent of asking “in a libertarian society, who would deliver the mail?” You might read the book “Sin Patrón: Stories from Argentina’s Worker-Run Factories.”

        “It is brutally obvious that the mutualists, if they were in control, would be unable to get the population to act as they would have them act without the sort of force and brutality that the old USSR had to resort to.”

        In “control”? Mutualists are anarchists. It would make about as much sense as saying “If Rothbardians were in control, they would be unable to get people to act in accordance with the Libertarian Law Code without the sort of force and brutality that the old USSR had to resort to.”

        “There is no way that people will value an item based on the labor that was input into its manufacture. People base their evaluations on their subjective notions of its marginal utility to them; and add to that the law of supply and demand.”

        And again, mutualists don’t deny this. The version of the labor theory of value defended on Mutualist.org is a marginalist, subjective-utility version. Explained in detail on the website you cite. (I’m surprised you didn’t trot out the “mud pie” objection.)

        “One can labor greatly making an item that no one wants and it will have no value to others.”

        No mutualist denies this. Indeed, no labour theorist denies this. The version of the labor theory of value you’re attacking is one that not even Marxists hold (recall “socially necessary labor time”), let alone mutualists. This is explained in detail on the website you cited.

        “And the idea of factories run by a ‘democracy’ made up of its workers has never worked in the real world, even though such a system could be tried right now in most countries of the world.”

        In existing countries the legal system is rigged against worker-run cooperatives. Nevertheless, many exist and are successful despite the governmental obstacles in their path.

        “The iron law of the division of labor can not be repealed.”

        And no mutualist dreams of denying it. What mutualists do claim is that government regulations artificially increase the costs of local production and socialise the costs of long-distance shipping. And they offer evidence for this claim. Did you read any of that evidence? It’s set out in detail on Mutualist.org.

        You sound like a liberal statist attacking libertarians for opposing the railroad subsidies of the 19th century: “If you libertarians had had your way, there’d never have been any coast-to-coast transportation.”

        “No matter the label, if the ‘mutualist’, ‘syndicalist’, ‘left-anarchist’, or what have you is willing to concede that no force should be used to dictate their Utopian vision on the rest of us and that people should be free to trade without any coercion from any group then I can support their right to go try their wrong-headed ideas out someplace.”

        Which is, um, exactly what it says on Mutualist.org.

        “One very sticky point with many on the left is the idea of ‘limited liability’ of corporations. Typically they don’t understand the issue.”

        You offer no evidence for this last claim. You don’t cite anything actually written by any leftist, let alone by any mutualist, on the subject.

        • M.S. — “Had you followed the links you would have seen that I used as my main source a site called ‘Mutualist.org’”

          R.L. — “Yes, I saw that you had linked to Kevin’s site. But from what you went on to say I inferred that you hadn’t read much of anything from it.”

          Looks like you need to get your inference device re-calibrated. And while you are at it you should understand that the post, like all here, is supposed to be a quick look at various subjects — a long tweet in effect. I am doing simple explanations (longer ones during the summer when I have more time) for the folks who follow me on twitter. But it is nice to see that you have found this back-water of the net. Welcome. By the way, I have read the mutualist.org site over the years many times but not as often as you seem to have read it — after all, they are so very opposite the Rothbardian view that it gobsmacks me to read some of their notions.

          —-

          M.S. — “It would be nice to hear from you on what, exactly, I got wrong if anything”

          R.L. — Almost every sentence in your post is wrong.

          My goodness that is some sentence to start with, but then you softened the blow by being incorrect yourself in so many ways and you gave me a huge smile when I read that one. Thanks are in order I guess.

          —-

          M.S. — “the labor theory of value which teaches that when labor or its product is sold or exchanged then one ought to receive back goods or services that were produced with the same amount of labor necessary to produce the article or service that the person offered for trade”

          R.L. — No. The labor theory of value is a descriptive claim, not a normative one. It doesn’t prescribe how people ought to trade, it explains the process of price-formation. And the version of the labor theory of value accepted by most contemporary mutualists — the one described at length at Mutualist.org — does not turn on the “same amount” of labor.

          As a “descriptive theory” it is at the heart of mutualism according to wikipedia and other sources. As a theory it teaches men that I am oppressing others if I don’t pay them according to the amount of their labor rather than their productivity. But you know that Dr. Long — I have read many of your essays over the years.

          —-

          M.S. — “The price of a factor input is based on competitive bidding by producers who use their subjective evaluations based on what they think the factor is worth to them”

          R.L. –Right; and if you had read the account of the labor theory of value at Mutualist.org, you would see that it is a subjectivised account, perfectly compatible with what you’ve said. … I don’t myself accept the labor theory, for reasons I explain here —http://praxeology.net/FB-PJP-DOI-Appx.htm — but the mutualist version is far more sophisticated than the crude strawman you’re beating up on.

          I don’t find any possibility of any theory being remotely correct if it depends on the amount of labor involved in production rather than the other factors so well described by Mises and the Austrians. There is the productivity of the laborers and there is the subjective valuation of the product by the consumers. The mutualists can dance around all day about the amount of effort put forth by the laborer but it is his productivity that they should look at. While my post was very short and meant to be just my reaction to a question by a friend, I set up no “straw-man” and I have noticed that those who toss that accusation around are often themselves guilty of it.

          —-

          M.S. — “Thus they deny that we should honor contracts!”

          R. L. — Every libertarian denied that we should honor some contracts. For example, all libertarians hold that you should not fulfill a homicide contract. Most libertarians deny that you should honor slavery contracts. To decide which contracts are legitimate and which are not, we need to determine which rights are alienable and which are not. To do that, we need to look at the actual arguments on each side. Mutualist.org contains arguments as to why absentee-landlord contracts should not be legitimate. You don’t explain what their argument is or why you disagree with it, so you don’t seem to be seriously engaging with the topic.

          The mutualists that have interacted with me on twitter over time have to all said that a contract between a legitimate land owner and a renter is null and void that instant the land  owner is no longer standing on the land. I think that talk of slavery or a “homicide contract” is ridiculous to use to try to justify the blatant lack of respect for property rights on the part of these so-called anarchists. They would agree to stealing a man’s rental property by simply agreeing to pay rent and then call the house theirs as soon as the real owner left the site. That, my friend, is theft.

          —-

          M.S. — “This is a philosophy of theft.”

          R.L. — The mutualist theory of property rights differs from, say, the Rothbardian one in having different rules for acquisition and transfer. Acting on mutualist rules looks like theft to Rothbardians; acting on Rothbardian ones looks like theft to mutualists. Mutualist.org contains arguments for the mutualist theory of property rights. Until you engage with those arguments, it’s question-begging to dismiss mutualism as a philosophy of theft, just as it would be question-begging for a mutualist to dismiss Rothbardianism as a philosophy of theft without addressing Rothbardian arguments. … Again, I don’t accept the mutualist ban on absentee landlordism, for reasons I explain here —https://mises.org/journals/jls/20_1/20_1_6.pdf — and Kevin himself has mellowed on it, see here —http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2012/04/in-defense-such-as-it-is-of-usufructory-land-ownership — but I think it deserves more respect than you’ve given it (at least reading the arguments for it, say?).

          The mutualists do, indeed, have a different set of ideas on property rights as opposed to the Rothbardian ideas on property rights. The fact that I have to be on the land and using it every minute else it is open season to steal by any squatter that happens along is just theft. Mutualists don’t believe a man really owns property at all, if we mean by ownership that of control of its use and disposition.

          But I love the shot that in a small response to a friend that I should list all the reasons on what Kevin thinks about property ownership. I summarized the position he has and anyone really interested in his odious ideas can jolly well read them for themselves. But since you seem to need a good reason: a man who is a widower buys a house in the city, pays for it completely, and leaves it to his son who lives in another city. The day after his death along comes a squatter named Kevin who occupies the house and claims it for his own. That is where all his “sophisticated” logic leads. Odious.

          —-

          M. S. — “there are many mutualists who applaud and promote blatant theft of other people’s property”

          R. L. — Your citation for this claim is nothing by a mutualist; instead it’s an article by George Reisman, who is a self-appointed one-man hit squad against mutualism, and whose article is famous for being one of the most embarrassingly inaccurate and irresponsible pieces ever written on the subject. It’s a bit like saying “most Jews and Protestants are thieves and liars,” and then citing as evidence an article by the Lord of the Spanish Inquisition. …See Kevin’s discussion of Reisman’s howlers here:http://www.mises.org/journals/jls/20_1/20_1_7.pdf …and here: http://mutualist.blogspot.com/2006/12/contra-reisman-compendium-of-posts.html

          So after saying that I should have turned a small conversational post into a dissertation  you dismiss the citation in ad hominem fashion by saying that it is by a fellow you don’t like? Hmmmm.

          But even if the link were broken and led nowhere, my words are what you are supposed to be looking at. I have interacted with many who call themselves mutualists, you know the non Philosophers, who claim over and over exactly what I said. Do you and Kevin not realize that your intricate little professional arguments have real-world consequences?

          —-

          M. S. — “how does a ‘worker controlled factory’ operate if one guy gets to sit behind the big desk while another guy has clean the men’s room? Who the hell decides on that?”

          R. L. — You ask these questions as though there weren’t successful worker-owned cooperatives all over the world. It’s the equivalent of asking “in a libertarian society, who would deliver the mail?” You might read the book “Sin Patrón: Stories from Argentina’s Worker-Run Factories.”

          I was talking about a factory, mutualist style, where every single person has an equal vote and everyone should be paid according to their labor input. Does the reference above show an example of that?

          —-

          M. S. — “It is brutally obvious that the mutualists, if they were in control, would be unable to get the population to act as they would have them act without the sort of force and brutality that the old USSR had to resort to.”

          R. L. — In “control”? Mutualists are anarchists. It would make about as much sense as saying “If Rothbardians were in control, they would be unable to get people to act in accordance with the Libertarian Law Code without the sort of force and brutality that the old USSR had to resort to.”

          What do you mean mutualists are anarchists so they would not use force? The first quote from their front page hints they would. The Russian Revolution and later events shows that some who claim to be anarchists are very capable of using the awesome force of government to make other do as they would have them do.

          ” … To the extent that wage labor still exists (which is likely, if we do not coercively suppress it), …”

          —-

          M. S. — “There is no way that people will value an item based on the labor that was input into its manufacture. People base their evaluations on their subjective notions of its marginal utility to them; and add to that the law of supply and demand.”

          R. L. — And again, mutualists don’t deny this. The version of the labor theory of value defended on Mutualist.org is a marginalist, subjective-utility version. Explained in detail on the website you cite. (I’m surprised you didn’t trot out the “mud pie” objection.)

          No matter how sophisticated, if the mutualist believes that a man should be paid according to the amount of labor he puts into the project then they are in serious error of how the world works. I thought my school room example was simple enough for even a professional Philosopher to grasp.

          —-

          M.S. — “One can labor greatly making an item that no one wants and it will have no value to others.”

          R.L. — No mutualist denies this. Indeed, no labour theorist denies this. The version of the labor theory of value you’re attacking is one that not even Marxists hold (recall “socially necessary labor time”), let alone mutualists. This is explained in detail on the website you cited.

          The problem is that the labor theory of value always leads to just such thinking. I guess you don’t get out much. Read some threads in progressive sites where those who hold to the labor theory of value will claim that everyone should be paid equal for equal time on the job and so forth.

          —-

          M. S. — “And the idea of factories run by a ‘democracy’ made up of its workers has never worked in the real world, even though such a system could be tried right now in most countries of the world.”

          R. L. — In existing countries the legal system is rigged against worker-run cooperatives. Nevertheless, many exist and are successful despite the governmental obstacles in their path.

          Neat excuse; but you claimed up above that there was such things working all over the world. Now you say no. Hmmm.

          —-

          M. S. — “The iron law of the division of labor can not be repealed.”

          R. L. — And no mutualist dreams of denying it. What mutualists do claim is that government regulations artificially increase the costs of local production and socialise the costs of long-distance shipping. And they offer evidence for this claim. Did you read any of that evidence? It’s set out in detail on Mutualist.org. … You sound like a liberal statist attacking libertarians for opposing the railroad subsidies of the 19th century: “If you libertarians had had your way, there’d never have been any coast-to-coast transportation.”

          Here you jump the shark when you claim no mutualist would deny that division of labor makes us all more wealthy. Do you know that mutualists have railed against “big business” to me often on twitter? So, are these people like “fake mutualists”?

          Besides, the whole “everyone should be a self-employed artisan” idea is at the heart of mutualism. What can one make of that? Will the pencil maker do every step of the job himself? http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/rdPncl1.html

          M. S. — “No matter the label, if the ‘mutualist’, ‘syndicalist’, ‘left-anarchist’, or what have you is willing to concede that no force should be used to dictate their Utopian vision on the rest of us and that people should be free to trade without any coercion from any group then I can support their right to go try their wrong-headed ideas out someplace.”

          R. S. — Which is, um, exactly what it says on Mutualist.org.

          Then you admit that not every sentence I wrote was “wrong”?? I will alert the media. However, I don’t see how they can create their Utopia while being so anti-market without using the force they hinted at.

          —-

          M. S. — “One very sticky point with many on the left is the idea of ‘limited liability’ of corporations. Typically they don’t understand the issue.”

          R. L. — You offer no evidence for this last claim. You don’t cite anything actually written by any leftist, let alone by any mutualist, on the subject.

          And you offer no proof of the opposite. You are asking me to cite the several long arguments at mises.org on this issue where the writers talk about modern “liberals” railing daily against the corporation due to limited liability? Or, are you asking me to educated you on the site after site where liberals hang out and make comments and talk about ‘limited liability’? Or, are you saying that they do, in fact, understand the issue?

          ———————

          Thanks for your comments Dr. Long. Looks like we just disagree on many things, but that is OK since I know we are both looking at this from a very different perspective.

        • “I have read the mutualist.org site over the years many times but not as often as you seem to have read it — after all, they are so very opposite the Rothbardian view that it gobsmacks me to read some of their notions.”

          The fact that you keep calling Kevin “they” reinforces my suspicion that your familiarity with Mutualist.org is superficial. And I think you exaggerate the distance between Kevin and Rothbard.

          “As a theory it teaches men that I am oppressing others if I don’t pay them according to the amount of their labor rather than their productivity.”

          Well, that’s not what the version espoused by mutualism, and specifically Mutualist.org, teaches. Which I thought was what you set out to be critiquing.

          “I don’t find any possibility of any theory being remotely correct if it depends on the amount of labor involved in production”

          And I just said that’s not what the mutualist version of the labour theory depends on.

          All the mutualist version of the labour theory claims is that the subjective cost of producing a (reproducible) good and bringing it to market determines the price, because a) if the price is higher than what is needed to compensate that cost, other producers will bid the price down, and b) if the price is lower than what is needed to compensate that cost, producers will stop bringing it to market.

          And the claim about oppression is not that employer profits per se constitute oppression, but rather that they are (largely) made possible by oppression — i.e., that the discrepancy between employer profits and employee wages is (largely) the result of specific government interventions (which are identified at length) rather than market forces.

          “The mutualists that have interacted with me on twitter over time have to all said that a contract between a legitimate land owner and a renter is null and void that instant the land owner is no longer standing on the land”

          Twitter is no place for nuanced explanations or defenses of anything. And nobody would want their own ideology judged by what gets said in its defense on twitter. Certainly the position defended on Mutualist.org is not the one you describe.

          “They would agree to stealing a man’s rental property by simply agreeing to pay rent and then call the house theirs as soon as the real owner left the site. That, my friend, is theft.”

          Kevin’s replies to Reisman deal with this objection at length.

          “The fact that I have to be on the land and using it every minute else it is open season to steal by any squatter that happens along is just theft. Mutualists don’t believe a man really owns property at all, if we mean by ownership that of control of its use and disposition.”

          No serious mutualist believes you have to be “on the land and using it every minute else it is open season.” Maybe some silly people on twitter think this.

          What are your criteria for determining when property has been abandoned?

          “a man who is a widower buys a house in the city, pays for it completely, and leaves it to his son who lives in another city. The day after his death along comes a squatter named Kevin who occupies the house and claims it for his own.”

          I can tell a fantastic tale about Rothbardianism too. Biff rents a house from Boff. Biff is one day late with his rent. Boff shows up with a chainsaw and massacres Biff and his entire family.

          That tale has as much to do with anything Rothbardianism advocates as your tale has to do with anything Kevin advcates.

          “What do you mean mutualists are anarchists so they would not use force? The first quote from their front page hints they would. … ‘ … To the extent that wage labor still exists (which is likely, if we do not coercively suppress it), …'”

          Are you seriously claiming that you interpret Kevin (or “they,” as you keep calling him) as hinting that he would like to coercively suppress wage labour? Is that what you take that conditional to mean? Now that is truly a bizarre interpretation.

          Here’s what Kevin actually says about wage labour:

          As an individualist anarchist, I should add that I see unions useful mainly as revolutionary weapons against the state capitalist enemy. They are a form of defensive force against organized capital and its state, which have initiated aggression by invading the peaceful sphere of market relations. The need for direct action will disappear as soon as the state ceases to intervene in the market on behalf of landlords and capitalists. Although I am a proud Wobbly, I do not see the free market as something to be transcended by militant unions–but rather, something for them to fight for. “Abolition of the wage system,” for me, does not mean an end to the sale of labor (after all, according to Tucker, that labor should be paid is the whole point of socialism); it means an end to state-enforced separation of labor from ownership, and labor’s resulting tribute to the owning classes in the form of a wage less than its full product. There might well be a role for non-radical unions in a genuine free market society, as an ordinary means for ensuring contractual stability and predictability (as Tom Knapp argued), in the interest of both employer and employed. But the main thing is to eliminate the kinds of state intervention in the market which create privilege in the first place, and thereby force workers to sell their labor under conditions of unequal exchange. Do away with the money monopoly (which keeps capital artificially scarce and inaccessible to labor, and forces labor to pay a monopoly price for access to means of production owned by others), and the state’s enforcement of land titles not founded in occupancy and use, and labor relations will take care of themselves. The increased bargaining power of labor in such an environment, with jobs competing for workers instead of the other way around, will ensure that labor’s wage is its full product, and labor has the last word on its working conditions.

          “The problem is that the labor theory of value always leads to just such thinking. I guess you don’t get out much. Read some threads in progressive sites where those who hold to the labor theory of value will claim that everyone should be paid equal for equal time on the job and so forth.”

          If your point is that the labour theory of value can be used to justify bad stuff, well, sure. And free-market libertarian rhetoric is used to justify bad stuff as well — Reaganism, Thatcherism, military aggression, intellectual property, crony capitalism, and so on. Name me any ideology that has never been (mis)used to justify evil crap. We need to judge doctrines and arguments on their merits.

          “Here you jump the shark when you claim no mutualist would deny that division of labor makes us all more wealthy. Do you know that mutualists have railed against ”big business” to me often on twitter?”

          Do you really not see the difference between “businesses are much larger and more globalised than they would be without government interventions that subsidise their being so” and “the division of labour has no value”?

          “You are asking me to cite the several long arguments at mises.org on this issue where the writers talk about modern “liberals” railing daily against the corporation due to limited liability?”

          My question was about leftists (and specifically mutualists), not liberals.

          “Looks like we just disagree on many things, but that is OK since I know we are both looking at this from a very different perspective.”

          I’m not sure what difference of perspective you have in mind. I’m a Rothbardian, not a mutualist. My views on both property rights and the labour theory of value are much closer to Rothbard than to Kevin (though my views on the role of big business are closer to Kevin than to Rothbard, at least post-1960s Rothbard). But we should criticise people for what they actually say, not what we imagine they say.

        • “The fact that you keep calling Kevin “they” reinforces my suspicion …”

          You have a lot of suspicions and don’t seem to understand that the post was not about you or Kevin. The “they” is mutualists and not Kevin. He does not own the term does he?

          “Twitter is no place for nuanced explanations or defenses of anything. And nobody would want their own ideology judged by what gets said in its defense on twitter. Certainly the position defended on Mutualist.org is not the one you describe.”

          As I told you before, but you seem incapable of understanding, the post was on mutualism in the wild. It was a reply to mutualists who talk to me in various places and not just Kevin. Lord knows both he and you are wrong on many things, but it was not really about you or him. In fact, I doubt Kevin and I will ever talk about anything.

          “If your point is that the labour theory of value can be used to justify bad stuff, well, sure. …”

          It seems to be always used to justify “bad stuff”. I have never seen one start an argument with the labour theory of value and reach a laissez-faire freed market position with a strong defense of property rights. Could happen I guess, but I have not seen it.

          “But we should criticise people for what they actually say, not what we imagine they say.”

          I did not criticize Kevin, but rather mutualists. I criticize them for the where their theory will lead if humanity follows it. And if you don’t see the threat in “To the extent that wage labor still exists (which is likely, if we do not coercively suppress it) then I don’t know how you make it through your day.

          “… though my views on the role of big business are closer to Kevin than to Rothbard …”

          And you are in error for that. It is the role of a freed market without any coercive interventions by a government to decide the proper size and scope of a business — and not you or your good buddy Kevin.

        • “I have never seen one start an argument with the labour theory of value and reach a laissez-faire freed market position with a strong defense of property rights.”

          Adam Smith? Thomas Hodgskin? Heck, Kevin Carson (the actual one)?

          “It is the role of a freed market without any coercive interventions by a government to decide the proper size and scope of a business”

          Agreed. (Who denied it?) But I don’t see why it’s okay for Rothbardians to make predictions about what would be likely under laissez-faire, but not okay for Kevin to do so.

        • Adam Smith? He came way before the full explanation on value from Menger was known. Besides, as someone famously said, he came up with little that was new and what he did come up with was wrong.

          I was speaking of modern economists who have the full advantage of knowing the full mature thought of the various schools of thought. And Kevin Carson has not reached a freed market position with a strong defense of property rights in my opinion.

        • This is your most interesting comment coming as it does after saying that nothing can be discussed on twitter.

          It was though interactions on twitter that I found many people do respond to “freed” better than “free” in conversation on occasion. So, while I use “free market” a lot, I also use “freed market” when I think it will be useful in communicating. But, of course, I do mean a freed market with no coercive intervention to force people to lose any property rights. Something missing in some people’s vision looks like.

          As an aside, one of my favorite speeches was the one you gave in 2006. The Rothbard Memorial Lecture at the Austrian Scholars Conference was very well done. I have read it a few times since then and I always enjoy it. I never thought that we would “meet” in such a fashion as we have, but it has been nice to get a feel for you in this tiny, short exchange. Perhaps I’ll write up my full thoughts on just Kevin Carson someday soon so we can discuss a post by me that is really about him rather than one that was not about him as you still seem to think this last one was.

          At wikipedia we see, “Economist and anarcho-capitalist Walter Block characterizes Carson as a Marxist, for his embrace of labor value exploitation theory, and argues that Carson’s philosophy is full of errors, mostly due to his acceptance of the labor theory of value. “For someone in this day and age to even take this doctrine seriously, let alone actually try to defend it, is equivalent to making a similarly widely and properly rejected position vis à vis the flat earth, or the phlogiston theory. It is, in a word, medieval.”[14] Carson alleges that Block misrepresents many of his views and probably did not actually read his book.”

          I agree with Walter Block on Carson, and I believe that Walter did read the book. :-)

        • Walter may have read the book, but his incorrect usage of ‘Marxist’ is typical of a certain kind of right wing libertarian – anything smelling of leftism which they disagree with is ‘Marxist’ as a convenient slur which their audience will lap up.

          If you bothered to read the book, Kevin actually attempts to take up Menger and Bohm-Bawerk up on their challenge to respond, and I believe that if they were at all honest they’d welcome this.
          People who disagree with Kevin’s theory of value tend to fall into two camps – those who throw up their hands and go ‘this cannot be right! It disagrees with Menger/Bohm-Bawerk/Mises/another sacred cow’ (this is what Riesman and Block did), or to be reasoned and respond in a discursvie manner, seeking to get to the bottom of the matter.

      • The problems are:

        a) One site on the internet does not represent all mutualist
        b) Most of this article is about people that are things other than mutualists

        c)That site is probably not exclusively mutualist but more syndicalists as syndicalists are a way larger group especially on the internet. Mutualists relate to syndicalists in the same way that libertarians relate to conservatives. The site is probably trying to appeal to syndicalists

        b)The mutualism covers a fairly broad range of beliefs.

        • “That site is probably not exclusively mutualist but more syndicalists”

          You mean Mutualist.org? Kevin Carson’s site? Um, no. I doubt a syndicalist would have penned Kevin’s quote about unions that I excerpted above.

        • Are you having trouble understanding who wrote what here? Seems your comment should have been addressed to zeb rather than me.

          However, the entire comment taken as a whole is understandable to most people, but probably not you. I am beginning to see your limitations. The part of zeb’s comment about Kevin’s site having syndicalists there is probably wrong unless he means visitors, which he might, as I bet that syndicalists agree with mutualists much more often than with Rothbardians. Sometimes on twitter and in comment threads elsewhere you can hardly tell them apart.

        • “Seems your comment should have been addressed to zeb rather than me.”

          Um, it was.

          “The part of zeb’s comment about Kevin’s site having syndicalists there is probably wrong unless he means visitors,”

          Mutualist.org doesn’t have comments, if that’s what you’re talking about.

        • I am glad you were responding to zeb. It did not look like that on my screen. As far as what he meant by visitors — most here don’t leave comments even thought the comment system is open — I can only speculate.

  2. Pingback: Mutual Assured Destruction?

  3. Your understanding of mutualism is very flawed. You hardly seem to understand it at all, rather you take a few fragments, mix them in with misunderstandings and come out with something almost entirely, but not quite, unlike mutualism.

    For the first part – mutualism does cover more than simply Kevin Carson’s beliefs.
    I suggest Shawn Wilbur’s work as another place to look – even if he no longer explicitely terms himself a mutualist, his work in rediscovering and trying to move forward the mutualist project is invaluable.

    Right libertarians tend to get hung up on the two areas you focus on – a Labour Theory of Value and the abandonment of property issue – neither of which are the most important aspects of mutualism. I’m not sure LTV is necessary for mutualism, and the property question is far more nuanced than usually stated. I personally feel that communities will experiment and adopt rules which are acceptable to the community rather than trying to derive from some axioms.
    To hold land whilst not using it for a long time is theft – it steals the opportunity to use it from others. To aquire land from another who has temporarily stopped using it is also theft – you are denying that person the opportunity to benefit from their previous use of the land.

    The core of mutualism is reciprocity, or the Golden Rule. The mutualist project is to unveil successive levels of application of this to create a just society. Its not particularly prescriptive, and has no utopian view.

    • “The core of mutualism is reciprocity, or the Golden Rule.”

      As I said in my post, as far as mutualist or anyone else follows the N.A.P. then I can support them. In so far as mutualists follow the golden rule, I welcome them as allies. But we anyone starts talking about forcing a given wage rate or anything else then I part company.

      I also must part company with any group that spreads economic fallacies like “a thing is worth what labor went into making it”. That is odious Marxism from a dead past. But if mutualists embrace the concept of a totally voluntary free market with no coercion then we can talk.

  4. After reading the post and all of the comments, I’m still not sure what mutualists believe (Kevin Carson or others), but thanks to Mark and Roderick for the exchange, which taught me at the very least that it’s important to accurately the position that you are going to critique–rather than just give the label for it–before critiquing it, especially when your audience is likely to have differing understandings (or no understanding) of what the label means.

    • I don’t agree with Dr. Long on his defense of Kevin Carson but did enjoy having an exchange with him. When summer comes and I have time, I hope to revisit this topic and address it deeper.

      I think the other commenter was right in saying that Kevin Carson is not the definition of mutualism. After all, they don’t call it “Carsonism” like they call anarcho-capitalism “Rothbardian”.

      Regardless, I am glad you also enjoyed the exchange.

      • I think the reason why Roderick Long replied to you as if you were talking about Kevin Carson’s mutualism is because you seemed to cite Carson’s website mutualism.org as your main source for what mutualism is.

        I assume that Roderick Long knows a lot about Kevin Carson’s mutualism and many other mutualists. Judging by his comments, I assume that he thinks that what your description of mutualism does not accurately characterize what most mutualists believe.

        Therefore, I think it would have been wise for you to offer some quotes from the people on Twitter who identify as mutualists in which they state what they believe in their own words. You can’t be accused of arguing against a straw man if you quote the person you’re rebutting, even if the person you’re rebutting (a self-identified mutualist) holds different views than other mutualists.

  5. “Like all modern terms, there will be disagreements on what, exactly, mutualism means, but It seems that some “mutualists” want only individual tradesmen or very tiny business concerns to exist. This shows a profound ignorance of economics, or else they want to see 7 billion humans die off due to destroying the industrial society that feeds us. The iron law of the division of labor can not be repealed.”

    There is not law of division of labor. there is no particular reason why we must divide labor. There is the law of comparative advantage, which lays bare the benefits of the division of labor. However the advocacy of tiny firms. sole proprietorship, partnerships, and small cooperatives in no way is contrary to the division of labor. The arrangement would increase the Coase cost (the difficulty of finding a buyer or what you produce, or a producer of what you want to buy) That mutualists prefer an increased Coase cost to the effects of centralization is not evidence that wish to destroy or forsake the division of labor.

    • I have no problem with small firms vs. large firms and without a coercive state to protect them, the large firms may be at a disadvantage. I do have a problem with mutualism calling for individual tradesmen like it was 1776 again. (or should I say 1566 again?)

      Why not just say that given a totally free market without state intervention then the competitive and cooperative nature of “the market” would decided the best course for society. Seven billion different brains all adding to the mix will yield the best mix of business types. This is the Rothbardian position of course, you may disagree.

      • “Why not just say that given a totally free market without state intervention then the competitive and cooperative nature of “the market” would decided the best course for society. Seven billion different brains all adding to the mix will yield the best mix of business types. This is the Rothbardian position of course, you may disagree.”

        There are some endeavors that wont’ go small-scale anytime soon, but they could be self-managed or based on a cooperative model.

        I agree with Rothbards Analysis that a free society would potentially generate a multitude of mixes of production arrangements, but I don’t imagine that any one potential arrangement of them is just as good as all the others. As far as I can tell large traditional firm just wouldn’t mesh well with the likely attitudes of a free people, and I don’t imagine that a really good mix could emerge unless a significant number of people involved in the development thereof worked with an eye aimed at it.

        “The market” is not something separate from us. It is the result of decisions why make everyday to just abide by what the market does is to give up a vital part of out agency. We re-make it each day with our choices and actions, and I think left-libertarian and libertarian-mutualist theory can help to forge a market and society that is more fulfilling, free, equal and connected than if such theory were not in a prominent place.

        • That is, I don’t believe that the mix which is best (for what is yet to be decided) will emerge without a great deal of conscious reflection and striving by the masses. If they are driven by instinct and habit, rather than self-examination and reason with an eye to the commutative result, those results are bound to be sub-optimal. Even if mutualism is shown as bogus on other fronts, it is valuable if it can drive people to undertake such a reflection.

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