Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Pilgrim’s Progress

Carl Oglesby's Ravens in the Storm is a very fine book. It is gracefully written, crafted by someone who loves words. It is narratively engaging, drawing the reader into Oglesby's personal and political experiences and depicting the development of a human person and the rise and decline of a movement in a way that never loses the reader's attention. It is reflective and self-critical, repeatedly underscoring Oglesby's awareness of his own limits and mistakes. And it is, in general, politically astute, offering insightful strategic, tactical, and normative assessments of political moves made by a wide variety of actors.

Oglesby served as president of Students for a Democratic Society during SDS's 1965-66 presidential term. As a leader of SDS, he occupied a front-row seat during a momentous period in US and world history. In Ravens in the Storm, he chronicles his evolution from relatively uncritical supporter of the status quo—he worked for several years as a secret-cleared employee of defense contractor Bendix—to vocal critic. He describes his interactions with a range of interesting and historically significant figures, and he offers a set of observations about war, politics, and protest.

For those aware of what is to come in Oglesby's own story, and, indeed, in more recent American history, the most interesting single relationship described in the book may be the one between Oglesby and Bernadine Dohrn (Oglesby remains somewhat coy about its precise contours). Evidently fond and respectful of each other, Oglesby and Dohrn joust throughout the book over a range of questions: Should SDS understand itself as a Marxist organization? What should be the place of armed struggle in the process of political change in the United States? Is there any value to dialogue between those seeking social change and those with power?

Oglesby does not seem to have had a close or warm relationship with Tom Hayden, but there is an obvious overlap in tone and emphasis between Ravens in the Storm and Hayden's 1988 memoir, Reunion. For both, the call to move toward a radically decentralized and participatory society is a call to recapture something that is essentially American. The goals of the New Left are, on this view, continuous (even if not necessarily identical) with the aspirations implicit in the American political project at its best. To take the kind of view expressed by Oglesby (and Hayden) is unavoidably to be, if not a thoroughgoing optimist, then at least not someone who has abandoned all hope in American society. It is therefore not to side with those, like the Dohrn of the late ’60s (as depicted, at least, by Oglesby) and the Weathermen, for whom desperate violence seems like the only way of undermining a corrupt system.

By contrast, Oglesby presents himself—now and during the heyday of SDS—as a representative of the “radical center,” as someone for whom identification with either wing of the American Establishment is unappealing, but who also clearly believes that people outside the mainstream on both the right and the left can find more common ground than they might imagine. For him, as for most of the early SDS leaders, orthodox Marxism sought just the kind of centralized, state control the New Left opposed. Oglesby could enthusiastically press for an SDS contribution to the harvesting of sugar cane in Cuba as an act of solidarity with the Cuban people and as a protest against the US boycott—but not as any kind of endorsement of the Castro regime or its ideology. Poverty, racism, imperialism, militarism, corporate dominance, and (latterly) sexism—these things Oglesby clearly opposed and opposes, but from a perspective allowing him to identify as a libertarian, and to be praised as one by Murray Rothbard. That Rothbard, who famously washed his hands of the New Left after his brief alliance with it against the Vietnam war and the corporate state, could affirm one of its earliest vocal members, one who had not changed his political views in any significant degree, as a libertarian speaks both to Oglesby’s ability to be an effective thinker and coalition-builder and to the capaciousness of libertarianism properly understood.

Similarly, Oglesby stresses the fact that doctrinaire pacifism played no role in shaping his opposition to the Vietnam war. That opposition was clearly principled: the initiation of the war was morally unjustified, the way in which it was conducted violated just war norms, and it gave every evidence of proving strategically ineffective and, indeed, counterproductive. But these were judgments made about a specific war in a specific time and place; Oglesby clearly reserved the right to judge each argument for war on its own merits (though it is hard to see how the recognition that wars are fought at the behest of the Establishment Oglesby opposed and serve its interests far more than those of ordinary people could leave much room for supporting many, or any, state-made wars).

Identifying proudly as an American, locating himself in the radical middle, Oglesby seeks to maintain ties with family members in the South for whom his anti-war stance seems anything but patriotic. Among the book's most poignant passages are his descriptions of encounters with his father, persistently skeptical of his son's activism, and the Baptist preacher who, though Carl's favorite uncle in childhood, now denounces his nephew as bound for hell.

American antiwar activism is still very much alive. Even the SDS has been reborn. But some things obviously differentiate today's antiwar movement from the one in which Oglesby played such a crucial role as a young man. The confluence among antiwar activism, the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, the burgeoning women’s movement, the movement for sexual liberation and the freedom of sexual minorities, the rise of rock ’n’ roll, the emergence of alternative spiritualities, and the beatnik-cum-hippie culture created a range of powerful synergies. It really seemed in the ’60s as if there were in some sense a (fractiously) unified movement for the liberatory transformation of American society, with each componenet at least sometimes drawing strength from the others. Today, American culture has absorbed some, if by no means all, of the lessons of the ’60s, and seems to be in no mood for the kind of potentially cataclysmic upheaval in which Oglesby participated. Antiwar activists, like other campaigners for social change, can’t draw as they could in the ’60s on the font of energy provided by a movement-for-change-in-general.

If the absence of a ’60s-style cross-issue movement and the demonization of the ’60s by some conservative pundits can plausibly be seen as cause for regret, the lack of enthusiasm for revolutionary violence among antiwar activists—the absence from the scene of “violent doves”—is one thing that surely makes today’s antiwar movement healthier than its predecessor. Also worth celebrating is the rise among antiwar activists of just the sort of coalition against unjust warfare Oglesby favored, a coalition embracing principled people from across the political spectrum—represented most obviously by AntiWar.Com. Oglesby’s own simultaneous embrace of the left’s ideals and of a libertarian opposition to centralized power and state socialism ought to be inspiring to many members of that coalition. But even those who are unenthusiastic about Oglesby’s own distinctive political synthesis (or who believe, like Ron Jacobs, that he overemphasizes the significance of personality and underestimates “the role of history” in understanding the events he describes—since I’m doubtful that history does anything, I tend to side with Oglesby) should find the story he tells compelling. Ravens in the Storm recreates an era marked by idealism, hope, and the potential for radical change while offering sobering observations about the limits of fanaticism and instructive insights into coalition-building. It focuses on the all-too-human (and still active) Oglesby rather than offering grand historical generalization; but it has a great deal to teach today’s activists. It is also—and surely this is what’s most important—a great read.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Anarchy and Poverty

What would be the impact of eliminating the state on poverty? What remedial processes, activities, or institutions designed to respond to the problem of poverty would be appropriate in a stateless society?

One way to begin getting at this is to ask how readers of this blog assess the impact of various factors in contributing to the incidence of poverty. (I have no burden to force a definition of this term on anyone. If you post, though, it might help to clarify what you mean by poverty.)

I can imagine a credible account of the dynamics underlying poverty incorporating some reference to each of the following factors:
  1. Natural disaster.
  2. Sincere, responsible choices marked by bad judgment.
  3. Irresponsible personal choices.
  4. Mental illness or serious personal pathology.
  5. Genuinely unpredictable individual market outcomes.
  6. Systemic consequences of market outcomes.
  7. Legal rules of various kinds which are clearly intended by those who institute them to funnel resources into the pockets of elites.
  8. Legal rules of various kinds which are sincerely intended to serve neutral social ends, or even to benefit poor people, but which in fact increase or perpetuate poverty.
  9. Redistribution to elites through the tax system (likely via subsidies)
  10. Collateral damage in the course of war.
  11. Acts of targeted violence (as in war).
  12. Theft of personal property
  13. Acts of legally sanctioned or tolerated dispossession.
  14. Acts of dispossession not, in fact, remedied by legal institutions but not sanctioned or tolerated by them
  15. Enslavement
  16. Prejudice and discrimination of various kinds.
By listing these possibilites, I don't intend to pass judgment on whether any of them even occurs, much less how frequent it is. I just want to highlight how many different factors might be thought to be in play as a way of sparking discussion (you may think of others).

Some of the best recent market anarchist work—e.g., that of Charles Johnson—has powerfully emphasized the role of the state in creating and perpetuating poverty (cp. factors 7 and 8 above). A market anarchist could also argue that factors 12 and 13 has played a key role in creating poverty (cp. Kevin Carson’s discussion of primitive accumulation). Absent state power to back up illegitimate claims, unjust dispossessions might be remedied in various ways. I have no burden to argue with Charles or Kevin that the state plays a significant role in impoverishing people. I just wonder (and this isn't a rhetorical wondering) how significant other factors are.

Absent subsidies to and protections of discriminators, a market anarchist might say, prejudice and discrimination (factor 16) might well be minized; and, of course, the private courts of some communities in a market anarchist society might award tort damages for employment discrimination (how these would be enforceable in such communities is a question that, per my earlier exchanges here with quasibill, I deliberately leave to one side). The absence of the state might make prejudice-based poverty less likely, and needn’t, in any case, increase it.

Further, the market anarchist could argue, factor 9 would not arise in a stateless society; and factors 10 and 11 would be less problematic, both because there would be fewer wars in the absence of states with tax-funded military machines and because insurance compensation for various kinds of harm from protection agency forces might be more readily obtainable than compensation from state military forces is at present.

Theft and enslavement (factors and 12, 13, 14, and 15) might well be effectively remedied by various non-state mechanisms, and neither poses any difficulty for the anarchist that is in principle insuperable.

The interesting questions, I think, concern factors 1 through 6. How significant are they in comparison with other factors in accounting for the existence of poverty? How significant would they be in a stateless society? Are they insigifnicant enough that removing the state would eliminate most causes of poverty, making it possible for something recognizably like today's private charities or the equivalent to address problems at the margins? Or are any of these factors likely to be sources of severe and persistent deprivation even without the state?

How relevant are the various factors I've listed? Are there others that should have been included? Which would still be significant absent the state? What remedial mechanisms for those that would would be most effective and appropriate in a stateless society? I'd like very much to hear your analyses.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Were the Nazis Really Privatization Enthusiasts?

More from me on anarchy and law still to come. Meanwhile, check out Kevin Carson’s observations re. the Nazis and privatization.

Monday, January 19, 2009


You know the drill: if there’s a new post by Kevin Carson at C4SS, I promote it here (this may even help the casual observer to conclude that I’m posting to my blog on a regular basis). This commentary focuses on the real beneficiaries of stimulus packages. Time spent with Carson’s work is never wasted.

I need to work on some short projects for publication that are long overdue. But I haven’t forgotten about this blog’s faithful readers, and I hope to continue the conversation about law and anarchy here soon.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Carson on Bailouts

Once again, there's a chance to learn from and dialogue with Kevin Carson—as readers of this blog will know, something I think is always worth celebrating. This time, Carson reflects on “Bailouts, Double Standards, and Hypocrisy,” in another of the C4SS commentaries he now has the opportunity to produce on a regular basis. Please read and react.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Non-Aggression Principle and the Pauline Principle

There is no one non-aggression principle. Rather, “non-aggression principle” names a family of norms precluding the initiation of force against others. One version, familiar to many readers, is the one found in the Libertarian Party’s membership pledge, which rejects “the initiation of force.”

One deontic cousin of the NAP is the Pauline Principle, which occupies a central place in natural law theory.

The Pauline Principle (I believe we owe the label to Alan Donagan in The Theory of Morality) gets its name from St. Paul’s characterization as justly damnable those who maintain that it is morally acceptable to do evil that good may come. Rejecting the possibility of doing evil to bring about good is sometimes understood to mean declining to violate a range of prohibitions, not necessarily connected but understood as absolute. But the new classical natural law (NCNL) theorists, who have done the best and most extensive contemporary work on this principle, have argued for a more general understanding, on which I will focus here.

The NCNL version of the Principle amounts to something like, “Do not cause harm purposefully.” On the view that doing something for the purpose of achieving some other end unavoidably involves identifying with one’s chosen means, so that an instrumental harm is a purposeful harm (“Whoever wills the end wills the means”), the NCNL theorists suggest that the Principle also includes the requirement: “Do not cause harm instrumentally.” (The NCNL theorists treat the Golden Rule’s requirement of fairness a a distinguishable norm which would surely preclude imposing risks of harm on others which one wouldn’t want imposed on oneself or one’s loved ones. So accepting the Golden Rule means accepting a further constraint, not itself part of the Principle but closely linked with it, which might be summarized as, “Do not cause harm recklessly.”)

There are interesting questions about the derivation and justification of the Pauline Principle, but I will not focus on them here. (Cp. Mark C. Murphy, Natural Law and Practical Rationality, and John M. Finnis, Fundamentals of Ethics.)

“Harm,” for the NCNL theorists, has a quite specific meaning. Something causes harm if it impedes, frustrates, inhibits, attacks, etc., someone’s participation in a basic aspect of human welfare. There are alternative lists of these basic aspects of welfare; they include life and bodily well being, speculative knowledge, practical reasonableness, friendship, ├Žsthetic experience, and play. (Other items on some lists include religion, parenthood and family relationships, and self-integration.) These basic aspects of well being are non-fungible (so that one instance of friendship, say, isn’t strictly substitutable for another) and incommensurable (so that there’s no common scale on which whole categories of well being—or individual instances—can be measured and compared). Non-fungibility and incommensurability rule out consequentialism and related views in principle, since these views require something like maximizing or optimizing the overall good in the universe (or some more limited context), and, since the various aspects of well being aren’t reducible to some common substrate, the notion of “the overall good” turns out to be meaningless, vacuous, nonsensical.

It’s important to see what the Pauline Principle doesn’t preclude. By ruling out purposeful and instrumental attacks on basic aspects of well being, it does not rule out the use of force in defense of oneself or others. For, say the NCNL theorists, one can use force, including, if necessary, lethal force, defensively while intending only to stop an aggressor (or quasi-aggressor: the moral culpability of the person being stopped isn’t an issue, so the Principle wouldn’t preclude using force if necessary against, say, a sleepwalker with a gun), not, per se, to kill or harm the aggressor. The harm to the aggressor done by a defensive act isn’t purposeful: one’s goal isn't, as such, to harm; but it’s not instrumental, either: one’s purpose isn’t to stop-by-harming. Rather, the harm is a foreseen but unintended by-produce or side-effect of one’s stopping the aggressor.

There are all sorts of interesting things to be said about the Pauline Principle, its justification, consequentialism, etc. But I want to focus myself, and to focus our conversation, on the ways in which this norm, carefully explicated and rigorously defended, might be thought to overlap with and differ from the NAP.

One crucial distinction: many versions of the NAP understand “the initiation of force” to include the initiation of force against property. Since a person’s property is not among the basic aspects of well being recognized by NCNL theory, the Pauline Principle, ruling out attacks on these dimensions of human welfare, does not, per se, preclude attacks on or violations of people’s property.

This does not mean, of course, that NCNL theory does not take property seriously. Most importantly, the NCNL theorists see the Golden Rule’s requirement of fairness (that one ought not to make arbitrary distinctions between persons and that one ought to treat others as one would want to be treated oneself, or would want one’s loved ones to be treated)—taken together with various general facts about human beings and their circumstances—as grounding the basic principle that there ought to be property rights; and this same requirement would obviously constrain interference with other people’s property rights. But the requirement of fairness, though real and substantial, does not provide support for a prohibition on all purposeful or instrumental interference with anyone’s property.

This seeming disagreement regarding property is important, but perhaps not as important as it might seem. For some versions of the NAP, including the one contained in the LP pledge, make no specific reference to property. And it would not be clear just how much even a version that did refer simply to property generated different conclusions from the Pauline Principle. To know just how much conflict there was between the Pauline Principle and the hypothetical version of the NAP, it would be necessary to know just what definition of property was presupposed by or explicitly incorporated in the version of the NAP in question. There are, after all, vastly many accounts of property rights, and simply to refer to “property” is not to answer the question which of these theories should be endorsed.

Still, it is clear that many versions of the NAP would lead to more extensive moral restrictions on actions affecting the property of others than would the Pauline Principle as understood by the NCNL theorists. That’s one key difference.

John Finnis maintains that the Pauline Principle rules out slavery in principle. But it’s not altogether clear how. Nor is it obvious how the Principle excludes confinement and other restrictions on personal liberty.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that the NCNL theory lacks resources for dealing with such restrictions. To the extent that one wouldn’t like being subjected to them oneself, one has good reason, in accordance with the Golden Rule, to avoid imposing them on others. But the wrongness of slavery seems more unequivocal than this: someone who wouldn’t mind being enslaved still does wrong by enslaving. It is clear, by contrast, how the NAP rules out slavery (I ignore the issue of voluntary slave contracts here).

The NAP and the Pauline Principle lead in practice to many of the same outcomes. But the implications of the Pauline Principle as a safeguard for liberty remain unclear and deserve more study.

Carson on Ecuador

Check out Kevin Carson’s pithy analysis of Ecuador’s debt repudiation at C4SS.

Enforcing Rights in a Stateless Society

In response to my comments about bargaining power, quasibill plausibly suggests that “If contract enforcement is left to moral sanction, bargaining power would seem to be a perfectly acceptable consideration,” even from the standpoint of libertarians committed to the non-aggression principle. To put the point more sharply, if “moral sanction” were all that was at issue, and such libertarians still objected to talk about bargaining power, it would be hard to escape the conclusion that their objection wasn’t really rooted in concerns about aggression.

The conversation we’ve been having makes it a natural next step to consider the more general issue of the range of formal or quasi-formal options short of the use of force that might be available in a stateless society to safeguard a range of morally significant interests. (As I suggest in my recent post on rights, I think many of these interests ought to be talked about as rights, but I don’t think anything directly related to my current argument turns on whether we do or not.)

  1. Public shaming has the potential to be an effective strategy. Identification in a newspaper, or on a website devoted to “the Employment Hall of Shame,” can certainly turn up the heat, especially in a smaller, more self-contained community.
  2. Certification systems are less flashy, but surely also useful. Perhaps only positive options would be available, and people would draw conclusions based on the absence of a positive certification of, say, someone’s employment practices. (I am not assuming anything here about the frequency of employment, as a kind of economic relationship, in a stateless society. I hope it will be rare, and I think Kevin Carson and others have offered good reason for thinking this might well be the case.) But I think there would be a market for negative information. And if large numbers of (again, in this case) employers bet that their own ratings would be positive, they might be willing to participate in a system that gave some people quite negative ratings.
  3. Individual boycotts of those who ignore these interests are always possible, of course. And perhaps in relatively small, self-contained communities, such boycotts might exert some meaningful influence, though it’s easy to be doubtful.
  4. What we might call encouraged multi-person boycotts could be more effective. I have in mind here a case in which a pressure group makes some kind of general announcement urging people to joing a boycott. The effectiveness of this strategy would obviously depend on the influence of the pressure group.
  5. Coordinated boycotts could be a good deal more effective. Here, membership organizations organize boycotts, plan for alternatives to trading with the person or entity being boycotted, and keep up pressure on identifiable members to participate in the boycotts. Even if reasonably small, boycotts like this could be reasonably effective, though it’s unclear how many people would be comfortable belonging to organizations likely to pressure them in the way I’m envisioning (especially if they feared that ignoring the boycott could subject them to boycotting).
  6. Contractual boycotts would also be an option. We might imagine a range of cases in which a group of people agreed among themselves that circumstances of some specifiable kind would trigger a boycott and that violating the boycott would subject the violator to damages. Among the more benign sorts of contractual boycott might be one in which a group of people agreed that, if a court’s decision could not (per their community’s libertarian norms) be enforced coercively, they would boycott someone who failed to respect the decision.
  7. As I suggested in my previous post, the availability of certain kinds of enforcement mechanisms isn’t what makes something (I think) a right. It’s also not what makes a given interest (call it a right or not) protectable by a court. It seems clear to me that a court in a stateless community could simply decline to enforce, say, a contract concluded unfairly (assume that this is given enough content to guide actors in advance) on the basis of unequal bargaining power. Suppose that the court and the members of the relevant community agree that this isn’t the sort of decision that can justly be enforced coercively. It’s still the case that the court’s decision can confer legitimacy on the person alleging that the contract is problematic. And, while, ex hypothesi, the loser (the person or partnership seeking enforcement of the contract) can turn to another court in search of relief (presuming there’s no prior contractual obligation to use the court in question), there may be costs associated with doing so, both tangible and intangible. Doing so may seem to cast doubt on the loser’s credibility; initiating a new case may impose financial burdens; others may be less likely to do business with the loser in the future, especially if the court is identified as a community court and and enjoys widespread support; etc.
  8. The problems confronted by the loser in this case point toward one final factor: norm maintenance. It’s easy to imagine either that avoiding certain kinds of employment practices is a norm maintained in a given community or that adhering to the decisions of a particular court even when coercive enforcement of those decisions isn’t an option is a norm maintained in the community. A wide range of subtle mechanisms for maintaining norms exist beyond the relatively blunt ones I’ve considered here. Even in an environment with competing alternative institutions, a community’s norms could clearly confer greater legitimacy on one or more of these institutions. And even in an environment in which it was agreed that, say, certain kinds of contracts couldn’t be enforced coercively, a community’s norms could subtly, gently remind someone that “we don’t do that sort of thing here.”
I realize as I write that considering the issues we’re discussing here unavoidably raise questions about the source and content of law and the operation of courts in a stateless community. That’s a huge topic on its own—a major focus of a book I’ll be working on this winter—and I think it deserves multiple posts. The question I want to pose at this point is (i) does everyone agree that even a strict proponent of the NAP ought to be able to accept these enforcement mechanisms as legitimate and (ii) are there other specific approaches to securing respect for morally significant interests (call them rights or not) consistent with the NAP that I haven’t considered here?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Bargaining Power

Some recent conversation on Kevin Carson’s “Free Market Anti-Capitalism” blog has focused on the notion of bargaining power, and the visceral reaction that talk about bargaining power seems to evoke among some libertarians. One commentator suggests that “[t]he inability to recognise bargaining power comes from a profound methodological individualism or atomism among many American style libertarians.”

Some libertarians of various stripes may be atomists. And, if they are, rescuing them from that dubious metaphysical position may be a worthwhile endeavor.

But I wonder whether “inability to recognize bargaining power” may also reflect another difficulty or family of difficulties.

I suspect that the primary underlying objection on the part of the libertarians who are uncomfortable with talk about bargaining power may not be that bargainers’ different positions don’t give them unequal influence over the outcome of their bargain. I’m not sure they’re—necessarily—denying this point. Rather, I suspect, their claim is often, instead, that, even when this is the case, the use of unequal bargaining power does not involve the use of physical force, and therefore doesn’t justify the legal system’s becoming involved in altering the outcome of the bargain. Because appeals to unequal bargaining power have lain at the roots of much modern labor legislation, such appeals raise the hackles of some libertarians, since they seem designed to pave the way for interference with contracts these libertarians regard as free because not grounded in the aggressive use of physical force.

There are multiple objections, I think, to this line of reasoning. I will attend only to two:

1. Someone could express concern about unequal bargaining power without being committed to any particular view regarding what would count as an appropriate response to a contract concluded on the basis of an unequal bargain. Someone could, that is, regard making a bargain the terms of which one is able to shape unfairly to one’s own advantage as wrong without taking any position one way or the other on what sort of response the wrongness of the bargain ought to trigger on the part of the legal system (whether in our world or in a stateless society).

The point is that claims about unequal bargaining power are claims about (potential) moral wrongs, not about remedies.

The difficulty in acknowledging the potential unfairness of a contract concluded on the basis of unequal bargaining power reflects the Remedial Fallacy to which too many libertarians seem to me to be prone. The proponent of the fallacy says something like: If the legal system can’t use force to remedy the supposed harm caused by this conduct, then there’s really nothing wrong with the conduct. The unavailability of a particular kind of remedy is taken, fallaciously, to imply the absence of a wrong in the first place.

In fact, of course, other legal options aside, there are multiple force-free options (which, BTW, could, though need not, be facilitated non-coercively by the legal system in a stateless society—the range of remedies needn’t be exhausted by forceful legal remedies and non-forceful non-legal remedies) that might be pursued in response to the abuse of bargaining power in a stateless society. These might include boycotts of various kinds, public shaming, non-appearance on endorsement lists published by anarchical Better Business Bureaus, etc. (It is also not clear to me why a non-state court system in an anarchic society—not, after all, backed up by the threat of state violence—couldn’t simply announce that it was not going to enforce contracts emerging from what it judged—in light of publicly specified criteria—to be unfair bargaining situations. No libertarian would presumably want to use force to compel such a court system to decide in certain ways.)

But the wrongfulness of an action is not determined by the kind of remedy available for it. To take an obvious example: does anyone imagine that people have stopped objecting to infidelity by their partners in those jurisdictions in which criminal and civil penalties for adultery aren’t available? If exploiting unequal bargaining power to one’s unfair advantage is wrong, it’s wrong quite apart from the question whether it can justly be remedied using forceful legal remedies. The concern about force here is a red herring.

2. It is also a mistake to suppose that unequal bargaining power, where it exists, is unrelated to the prior use of force in multiple ways. As Kevin Carson has emphasized—for instance, here and here—the background conditions for many, perhaps the vast majority of, economic transactions are shaped by centuries-old histories of dispossession and oppression. Even if an individual trader does not act unjustly in making choices within the constraints set by those histories, the existence of bargaining disparities can be seen as a pointer to background injustice. And, of course, the relationships may sometimes be much more intimate, as when wealthy landowners who are themselves responsible for (or in partnership with those responsible for) dispossessing peasants of whose circumstances they then take contractual advantage, or when employers opposing strikes choose, or threaten, to do so violently. Even people for whom force is seemingly the only visible factor ought to be able to acknowledge its significance here.