Monday, June 22, 2009

Socialism revisited

I'd like to try to tie together and expand my observations re. the great “socialist”/“capitalist” terminological debate that’s been proceeding at C4SS and AAE.

“Socialism” as Genus; “State-Socialism” as Species

I think there is good reason to use “socialism” to mean something like opposition to:

  1. bossism (that is to subordinative workplace hierarchy); and
  2. deprivation (that is, persistent, exclusionary poverty, whether resulting from state-capitalist depredation, private theft, disaster, accident, or other factors.
“Socialism” in this sense is the genus; “state-socialism” is the (much-to-be-lamented) species.

Indeed, using the “socialist” label provides the occasion for a clear distinction between the genus “socialism” and the species “state-socialism.” Thus, it offers a convenient opportunity to expose and critique the statist assumptions many people reflexively make (assumptions that make it all-too-easy for political theory to take as given the presupposition that its subject matter is the question, ‘What should the state do?’).

I am more sympathetic than perhaps I seem to the claims of those who object to linguistic arguments that they fear may have no real impact on anyone’s political judgment. I wouldn’t dismiss as silly someone who said that no market anarchist could employ “socialist” without creating inescapable confusion.

“Capitalism”: Seemingly in the Same Boat

So the first thing to say, I think, is that the same is true of “capitalism.” It’s a word with a history, and the history is, very often, rather less than pretty.

Consider people on the streets of a city in Latin America, or Africa, or Asia, or Europe, chanting their opposition to neoliberalism and, yes, capitalism. I find it difficult to imagine that hordes of protestors would turn out in the streets to assail po’-lil’-ol’ private ownership. When a great many people say that “capitalism,” is the enemy, that’s surely because, among many people around the world, “capitalism” has come to mean something like “social dominance by the owners of capital,” a state of affairs many people might find unappealing.

In accordance with the kind of libertarian class analysis it’s easy to find in the work of people like Murray Rothbard, John Hagel, Butler Shaffer, and Roderick Long, Kevin Carson—author of the original C4SS article and Stephan Kinsella’s target (to Kinsella’s credit, he is not only blunt but also good-natured)—maintains that this social dominance is dependent on the activity of the state. Remove the props provided by the state, he argues, and “capitalism” in this sense—the sense in which the term is employed pejoratively by millions of people who have no ideological investment in statism or bureaucratic tyranny—is finished.

Socialist Ends, Market Means

That doesn’t mean that the market anarchist must somehow have forgotten her commitment to markets. As Kevin, Brad, Charles, and others have observed, as a historical matter there clearly have been people who have argued for the abolition of state-supported privilege and who have enthusiastically favored freed markets who have worn the label “socialist” confidently. Tucker and Hodgskin wouldn’t have agreed that socialism is synonymous with collective ownership. Rather, they would have said, various schemes for state ownership (or for collective ownership by some quasi-state entity) are ways of achieving the underlying goal of socialism—an end to bossism in the workplace, the dominance of the owners of capital in society, and to significant, widespread deprivation. But, Tucker and Hodgskin would have said, these are both unjust and ineffective means of achieving this goal—better to pursue it by freeing the market than by enhancing the power of the state.

Of course, if “socialism” means “state [or para-state] ownership of the means of production,” there is no sense in characterizing Carson or any other market anarchist as defending “clearly pro-socialist positions.” On the other hand, if “socialism” can have a sufficiently broad meaning—one compatible with market anarchism—that it makes sense to say that Kevin (or another market anarchist) does defend such positions, then it is unclear why talk of “socialism” should be objectionable.

Distinguishing Market-Oriented Socialists from State-Socialists

Carson, for one, clearly supports the existence of private ownership rights. And I have seen nothing to suggest that he would disagree with the claim that market interactions have to feature non-state ownership if they are to be voluntary. He’s consistently clear that there could, would, should be alternate kinds of property regimes in a stateless society, but none of those he considers appropriate would be rooted in coercion. So I’m puzzled by the implication that he’s an opponent of private ownership.

None of that means that one can’t point to despicable regimes (Pol Pot, anyone?) who’ve worn the “socialist” label proudly. But surely if the idea is to point to despicable applications of a term, one can do the same with “capitalism” as with “socialism”? (Think Pinochet-era Chile.) The association of “capitalism” with mercantilism and corporatism and the dominance of entrenched elites is hardly a creation of left libertarians and other market anarchists: it’s an association that’s common in the minds of many people around the world and which is thoroughly warranted by the behavior of states and of many businesses and socially powerful individuals.

Beyond Semantics

So, in short, I’m not sure that using “socialism” as the label for a particular sort of market anarchist project, or of “capitalism” for what that project opposes, has to be seen as just an exercise in semantic game-playing.

1. Emancipatory intent. For instance: labeling a particular sort of market anarchist project “socialist” clearly identifies its emancipatory intent: it links that project with the opposition to bossism and deprivation that provide the real moral and emotional force of socialist appeals of all sorts.

2. Warranted opposition to “capitalism.” Thus, identifying one’s project as “socialist” is a way of making clear one’s opposition to “capitalism”—as that term is understood by an enormous range of ordinary people around the world. The “socialist” label signals to them that a market anarchist project like Kevin’s is on their side and that it is opposed to those entities they identify as their oppressors.

3. Forcing the state-socialist to distinguish between her attachment to ends and her attachment to means. A final rationale: suppose a market anarchist like Kevin points out to the state-socialist—by sincerely owning the “socialist” label—that she or he shares the state-socialist’s ends, while disagreeing radically with the state-socialist’s judgments about appropriate means to those ends. This simultaneously sincere and rhetorically effective move allows the market anarchist to challenge the state-socialist to confront the reality that there is an inconsistency between the state-socialist’s emancipatory goals and the authoritarian means she or he professes to prefer. It sets the stage for the market anarchist to highlight the fact that purported statist responses to bossism create more, and more powerful, bosses, that the state is much better at causing deprivation than curing it.

Thus, the market anarchist’s use of “socialism” creates an occasion for the state-socialist to ask her- or himself, perhaps for the first time, “Am I really more attached to the means or to the end?” I realize that what I intend as a rhetorical question may not—if the state-socialist cares more about power than principle—elicit the intended answer. But it seems to me that, for many state-socialists, the recognition that the left-wing market anarchist sought socialist goals by non-statist means provides the state-socialist with good reason to rethink her attachment to the state, to conclude that it was pragmatic and unnecessary, and that her genuinely principled attachment was to the cause of human emancipation.

This means there’s a meaningful opportunity for education—to highlight the existence of a credible tradition advancing a different meaning of “socialism.”

Libertarianism and the Socialist Vision

Now, it is obviously open to a critic to maintain that she has no particular concern with workplace hierarchies or with deprivation, or that they should be of no concern to the libertarian-qua-libertarian, since objections to them do not flow from libertarian principles.

I am happy to identify as an anarchist who favors markets and property rights (though my Aristotelianism and Thomism disincline me to characterize them in the same way as Stephan), as well as individual autonomy. But I do not ask myself whether my appreciation for “socialism” in this sense is something to which I am committed qua libertarian. Rather, my willingness to identify as a libertarian is licensed by a more fundamental set of moral judgments which also make “socialism” in the relevant sense attractive, and which help to ensure that the senses in which I am a libertarian and in which I am a socialist consistent.

At minimum, there seems to be some reason for using the label “capitalism”, so clearly understood to be the alter of “socialism,” for the kind of economic system we have now, backed up so clearly by state-granted and state-maintained privilege. But I think it’s worth emphasizing that “capitalism”—both because of its history and because of its superficial content—seems to suggest more than merely state-supported privilege (though surely it implies at least this): it seems to suggest “social dominance by the owners of capital (understood to be other than the owners of labor).”

Now, it happens to be the case that I agree with Kevin, Roderick, and others that this dominance is dependent in large measure on state abuses. But I don’t want simply to emphasize my objection to these abuses—though I certainly do—but also to express my opposition, per se, to the dominance of the owners of capital, thus understood. That’s why I am disinclined to regard talk of “socialism” as important, as highlighting, at minimum, the trajectory toward which the market anarchist project be thought to lead, and as identifying morally important values to which my sort of market anarchist, at least, is committed, and which do not seem to me like good candidates for the status of “particular interests,” if these are understood as arbitrary, even if morally licit.

I am avowedly opposed to the institutionalized use of force against persons, and against their (Aristotelian-Thomist) ownership rights, and I am quite willing to say so loudly or clearly. That makes me, by my own lights, a libertarian. But I am not prepared to dismiss my invocation of “socialism” as a label that has not lost its usefulness for the left-libertarian project, as simply an expression of individual preference with which no good libertarian ought to interfere, simply because interference would be unreasonably aggressive. Rather, “socialism” names a set of concerns, including ones regarding attractive patterns of social organization, that there is good reason for left-libertarians whole-heartedly to endorse.

46 comments:

Neverfox said...

Home run, Gary.

Stephan Kinsella said...

Gary:
“I think there is good reason to use “socialism” to mean something like opposition to:
bossism (that is to subordinative workplace hierarchy); and
deprivation (that is, persistent, exclusionary poverty, whether resulting from state-capitalist depredation, private theft, disaster, accident, or other factors.

Okayyy. But libertarianism is not against "bossism", and therefore socialism in this sense is at most compatible with, while orthogonal to, libertarianism.
“I am more sympathetic than perhaps I seem to the claims of those who object to linguistic arguments that they fear may have no real impact on anyone’s political judgment. I wouldn’t dismiss as silly someone who said that no market anarchist could employ “socialist” without creating inescapable confusion. ...

So the first thing to say, I think, is that the same is true of “capitalism.” It’s a word with a history, and the history is, very often, rather less than pretty.”
I find this argument weak for a couple reasons. First, say you are right, that we ought not use "capitalism" because of its linguistic confusion--why then urge "socialism"'s use? Second, I have mostly stopped using "capitalist" for these reasons--I prefer "anarcho-libertarian." Third, I disagree that the linguistic confusion between socialism and capitalism are of the same magnitude. Socialism is widely understood to mean state control of property. But at least one common meaning of capitalism is private ownership of the means of production. So even with its flaws, "capitalism" is much closer to the substance of libertarianism than is the common meaning of "socialism."
“So, in short, I’m not sure that using “socialism” as the label for a particular sort of market anarchist project, or of “capitalism” for what that project opposes, has to be seen as just an exercise in semantic game-playing.

1. Emancipatory intent. For instance: labeling a particular sort of market anarchist project “socialist” clearly identifies its emancipatory intent: it links that project with the opposition to bossism and deprivation that provide the real moral and emotional force of socialist appeals of all sorts.”
But libertarianism is not opposed to "bossism."
“2. Warranted opposition to “capitalism.” Thus, identifying one’s project as “socialist” is a way of making clear one’s opposition to “capitalism”—as that term is understood by an enormous range of ordinary people around the world.”
Well, but of course then the "socialist" is saddled with the linguistic confusion over that term. Why not just be clear, and say one is a pro-worker, anti-state-corporatist, anti-state-capitalist, pro-free market libertarian? Just be clear that one is opposed to "state capitalism". (Of course, all libertarians are opposed to state capitalism already.)
“The “socialist” label signals to them that a market anarchist project like Kevin’s is on their side and that it is opposed to those entities they identify as their oppressors.”
And it also falsely signals the state-socialist connotations; and it also signals sympathy with the non-libertarian (I don't say anti-libertarian) "anti-bossist" view of the left-libertarians. It even falsely implies, IMO, that there is some link between anti-bossism and libertarianism. There is not. Far from it.
[to be continued]

Stephan Kinsella said...

[continued]
“3. Forcing the state-socialist to distinguish between her attachment to ends and her attachment to means. A final rationale: suppose a market anarchist like Kevin points out to the state-socialist—by sincerely owning the “socialist” label—that she or he shares the state-socialist’s ends, while disagreeing radically with the state-socialist’s judgments about appropriate means to those ends. This simultaneously sincere and rhetorically effective move allows the market anarchist to challenge the state-socialist to confront the reality that there is an inconsistency between the state-socialist’s emancipatory goals and the authoritarian means she or he professes to prefer. It sets the stage for the market anarchist to highlight the fact that purported statist responses to bossism create more, and more powerful, bosses, that the state is much better at causing deprivation than curing it.”
Gary, maybe I missed it but in this post you don't explicitly define socialism. You imply it's anti-bossism, and anti-deprivation. Surely it has to be more than this. If this is all it is, then (a) the anti-bossism is not part of libertarianism; and (b) the anti-deprivationism is not anything special but is what standard libertarianism is infused with. So I see no reason for the libertarian to see any appeal to "socialism"--they are already against deprivation, thank you very much, and see the "anti-bossist" stuff as naive and kooky. In fact, on Roderick Long's blog he stated: "Even if in a freed market capitalist-owned firms were better for workers than they are now (and I think they would be), having a boss still grates, and rightly so I think." Now, left-libertarians are free to think this way. But here are a few comments some of my (non-left) libertarian friends made about this kind of remark: "This misses the important point that the customer is your boss even if you have no other." "Also, if you have a bad boss, you might be able to complain about him or change jobs or move within the company, and maybe get a good boss. If you own a small business, and your customers are bosses, you can't do much about the bad ones. Customers can get away with all sorts of abuse that bosses can't." "Many (not all) academics have zero understanding of real-life work and wealth production. They would be improved by spending a year in West Virginia coal mines."

Stephan Kinsella said...

But back to your remarks:
“... I do not ask myself whether my appreciation for “socialism” in this sense is something to which I am committed qua libertarian. Rather, my willingness to identify as a libertarian is licensed by a more fundamental set of moral judgments which also make “socialism” in the relevant sense attractive, and which help to ensure that the senses in which I am a libertarian and in which I am a socialist consistent.”
This harkens back to the thick-thin debate, which is also perennially confusing and mired in semantical issues. Sure, people are not just libertarians. Sure, there are connections between various ideas and values they hold. Sure, the more fundamental reasons that make you a libertarian have other implications. For example in my own case and in my view, one cannot be a libertarian without being empathetic, and interested in truth, and valuing honesty (say). But this does not mean truth and honesty are "part of" libertarianism. And in this particular issue, you seem to think the reasons that impel your opposition to aggression also imply anti-bossism. I don't see it.
“At minimum, there seems to be some reason for using the label “capitalism”, so clearly understood to be the alter of “socialism,” for the kind of economic system we have now, backed up so clearly by state-granted and state-maintained privilege.”
I'll make you a deal: we'll drop capitalism, and you drop socialism, and advocate your "anti-bossism" on its on lights and don't tie it to libertarianism. Deal? :)
“I am avowedly opposed to the institutionalized use of force against persons, and against their (Aristotelian-Thomist) ownership rights, and I am quite willing to say so loudly or clearly. That makes me, by my own lights, a libertarian. But I am not prepared to dismiss my invocation of “socialism” as a label that has not lost its usefulness for the left-libertarian project,”
Gary, from my perspective, socialism to you means anti-bossism, and andi-deprivation. The latter part is not unique to your brand of libertarianism, so we leave this out. That means left-libertarianism basically means anti-bossism and related views. But anti-bossism is not part of libertarianism at all, so it is misleading to characterize "left-libertarianism" thusly. Unless you mean it as a compound concept, sort of like "lifeguard-libertarian" would be someone who happens to be a lifeguard and a libertarian. But lifeguard-libertarianism would offer no reason for regular libertarians to become lifeguards. Likewise, I might be a snow-skiing-libertarian, and so on. If left-libertarian just means a person who is a libertarian and who also dislikes bossism, then fine; but this gives the standard libertarian no reason to adopt the leftish stuff, the anti-bossism. (This is true even if you are right that your highlighting your socialism the way you do when talking to non-libertarian socialists might be an effective way of pushing some of them in a libertarian direction by making them realize their means are not appropriate to their ends.)
“as simply an expression of individual preference with which no good libertarian ought to interfere, simply because interference would be unreasonably aggressive. Rather, “socialism” names a set of concerns, including ones regarding attractive patterns of social organization, that there is good reason for left-libertarians whole-heartedly to endorse.”
As far as I can tell there is no reason for the libertarian qua libertarian to agree with the left-libs that your preferential patterns of social organization are attractive. What we libertarians find attractive is whatever patterns and institutions are adopted on the free market by free people. We have no predisposition toward, or against, localism, bossism, the size of firms, etc., any more than we have a pre-programmed notion of how many brands of toothpaste there ought to be.

Gary Chartier said...

Stephan: you are nothing if not intellectually energetic and indefatigable. I wish I could write as quickly.

It seems to me that you and I may simply see the point of the conversation about “socialism” and “capitalism” differently. It seems to me that you want to ask whether “socialism” is the best name for the libertarian project you want to advance, given a plumb-line account of libertarianism as a commitment to non-aggression understood along broadly Rothbardian lines. You acknowledge that someone might make moral judgments other than the judgment that aggression is wrong, but such judgments are not, I take you to say, integral to the libertarian project.

I think that, by contrast, I want to ask whether the moral-cum-political program I’d like to defend, one that’s rooted, as I’ve said before, in Aristotle and Aquinas, exhibits enough continuity with the socialist tradition to be reasonably identified as socialist. Opposed to state-capitalism and state-socialism, I’m an anarchist who values markets, and I’m an an anti-authoritarian in a wide range of contexts. So I’m happy to wear the “libertarian” label. But I have no particular commitment to Rothbardian plumb-line libertarianism (though I have learned and continue to learn a lot from Rothbard) and I don’t see my argument in this post as designed to show anyone that this sort of libertarianism is best described as socialist (though I can certainly see arguments for the view that it is).

Some proponents of this sort of libertarianism are not, indeed, against bossism (I’m happy for a better term). But I am. And I don’t see my opposition as a matter of hobbyistic preference; I think it flows from my overall moral position, and I think there is good reason for others to adopt both my view of bossism and the position from which it flows (though one could surely object to bossism on a range of grounds unrelated to the views of Aristotle and Thomas). So, yes, I am inclined to think that the reasons that justify my opposition to aggression also imply anti-bossism. I think opposition to aggression is justified in virtue of the Pauline Principle and the Golden Rule, and the Golden Rule, in turn (along with the Efficiency Principle), warrants opposition to bossism. (I don’t, of course, attribute this pattern of analysis to any other libertarian of leftish inclinations.)

Stephan Kinsella said...

Gary: "Stephan: you are nothing if not intellectually energetic and indefatigable. I wish I could write as quickly."

and pugnacious and incontinent. :)

"It seems to me that you and I may simply see the point of the conversation about “socialism” and “capitalism” differently. It seems to me that you want to ask whether “socialism” is the best name for the libertarian project you want to advance, given a plumb-line account of libertarianism as a commitment to non-aggression understood along broadly Rothbardian lines. You acknowledge that someone might make moral judgments other than the judgment that aggression is wrong, but such judgments are not, I take you to say, integral to the libertarian project."

Well, I am a bit reluctant to talk in such terms; I view them as terribly vague and prone to confusion; and also a bit too activist for my taste. That said, I am not really opposed to this approach, it's just that I like to have clarity in the concepts, terms, and underlying fundamental principles first.

"I think that, by contrast, I want to ask whether the moral-cum-political program I’d like to defend, one that’s rooted, as I’ve said before, in Aristotle and Aquinas, exhibits enough continuity with the socialist tradition to be reasonably identified as socialist. Opposed to state-capitalism and state-socialism, I’m an anarchist who values markets, and I’m an an anti-authoritarian in a wide range of contexts. So I’m happy to wear the “libertarian” label."

but libertarian does not describe your "anti-authoritarian" aspect. Libertarianism is not against authority.

"Some proponents of this sort of libertarianism are not, indeed, against bossism (I’m happy for a better term). But I am. And I don’t see my opposition as a matter of hobbyistic preference; I think it flows from my overall moral position, and I think there is good reason for others to adopt both my view of bossism and the position from which it flows"

What is a good, concise, clear explanation of this view, and the reasons you would hold it--especially the reasons you would hold it qua libertarian? It makes no sense to me; it seems terribly amorphous and misguided, if and to the extent it's held up as anything more than some vague preference.

"the Golden Rule, in turn (along with the Efficiency Principle), warrants opposition to bossism."

Why? How? This may seem obvious to you, and to those steeped in Marxian literature, but it's not to standard libertarians, I think. It is baffling to us that you guys even take this seriously. If it's just a reaction to what you see as "vulgar pro-capitalist" libertarainsim, a corrective approach going too far the other way [sort of how Rand did in her time, the other way around], then I can at least understand it; but you guys actually seem to mean this seriously.

DixieFlatline said...

Gary, not to be condescending, but people who go on about racism, sexism and bossism, in my experience, do not truly understand the nature of free markets.

In a free market, there is no bossism, or involuntary hierarchy. If there is what you would call bossism, then we must first be inclined to think it is voluntary, because if not, the relationship would be ended by the worker, just as parasitism might be ended by the boss.

The thick libertarian debate, seems to focus around anti-state issues, that would by and large be non-issues post-state.

So when you say plumbline, which I suppose I identify with, it's not that I am for sexism, racism or bossism, but that I don't think they are even relevant within the paradigm of a free and voluntary society, which is my preferred end.

So in that regard, I agree with Stephan, that libertarianism is not against bossism per se. Libertarianism opposes involuntary relations, and if bossism is involuntary, then like rape, murder, theft and other aggressions, a libertarian would not be for it.

But to constantly single out worker relations as some libertarian cause, misses the broader picture that in a free market, we are all workers, producers and consumers.

Kevin Carson said...

I second Neverfox: home run.

Stephan: It's true that plumb-line libertarianism, per se, isn't about bossism. In the same sense, plumb-line libertarianism, per se, doesn't object to seeing people pushed around or treated like dirt--so long as it's voluntary. But I'd have to wonder why anyone who didn't find seeing people pushed around and treated like dirt would ever be attracted to libertarianism in the first place. From the standpoint of entailment thickness, there is a close affinity between a distaste for such treatment, and the values of respect for individual dignity that draw most people to libertarianism.

Roderick T. Long said...

Dixie F. seems to be assuming that the support relation between statism and other social evils is one-way; statism gives suppport to them but doesn't derives support from them, so we can ignore the other evils and just focus on eliminating statism. I think the relation between statism and other evils is one of mutual reinforcement, which is why I think the whole mess has to be fought as a package.

I also fear that Walter has introduced some confusion over the concept of plumbline libertarianism. (I've told Walter this 9,472 times.) Plumbline libertarianism doesn't mean (or didn't, prior to Walter's use) libertarianism that's neither left nor right (after all, the idea of the "plumbline" was first introduced by a libertarian socialist), nor does it mean libertarianism that ignores all issues besides the non-aggression principle; it just means libertarianism that never deviates from the non-aggression principle.

Stephan Kinsella said...

Kevin,

"Stephan: It's true that plumb-line libertarianism, per se, isn't about bossism. In the same sense, plumb-line libertarianism, per se, doesn't object to seeing people pushed around or treated like dirt--so long as it's voluntary. But I'd have to wonder why anyone who didn't find seeing people pushed around and treated like dirt would ever be attracted to libertarianism in the first place."

Sure. But we would all agree treating people "like dirt" is bad; it's question-begging to assume "bossism" is similarly bad. (Further, "treating people like dirt" is amorphous and non-rigorous; and we still would not base a policy or rights view on it.) As for "pushing people around," this is so vague as to be contentless; or so broad that it's not clearly bad--it would capture too many innocuous institutions and interactions. There is nothing obviously bad about or unlibertarian about natural authority structures, whether they be civil, familial, even financial, what have you.

"From the standpoint of entailment thickness, there is a close affinity between a distaste for such treatment, and the values of respect for individual dignity that draw most people to libertarianism."

Sure, but it is not obvious that this is also true of "bossism". What is even wrong with it, even from a non-libertarian perspective?

DixieFlatline said...

Kevin,

How can people be pushed around and treated like dirt voluntarily?

And if it is voluntary, like say BD/SM, who are you to declare it unjust?

Stephan Kinsella said...

"Plumbline libertarianism doesn't mean ... libertarianism that's neither left nor right ..., nor does it mean libertarianism that ignores all issues besides the non-aggression principle; it just means libertarianism that never deviates from the non-aggression principle."

Which is of course the reason to oppose minarchism, since minarchism always supports aggression. It is deviationist in this sense.

Bossism is not aggression nor is "pushing people around," or even calling them names--and while the latter two are presumptively bad the former is not. It's not unlibertarian for a libertarian to dislike "bossism," just like it's not unlibertarian to dislike trekkies.

Now what?

Kevin Carson said...

Dixie Flatline: I think the answer is that most people tend not to *like* being pushed around, even if they do so "voluntarily," and they put up with it as a necessary evil because their choices are constrained. So it's natural for libertarians to focus on the ways choices are constrained by a state-corporate power nexus, and consequently to focus on the elimination of subordination and indignity as a beneficial side-effect of reducing the power of the state-corporate power nexus.

Stephan,

I forget the term for it, but one of the forms of thickness involves the tendency of particular forms of "voluntary" authoritarianism to create a cultural climate which is hostile to the survival of libertarian practices. In the case of bossism, it breeds a habit of subordination and passivity; and people in whom such personality traits have been inculcated by spending half their waking hours taking orders are in danger of coming to see such obedience as part of the natural order of things, and are less likely to resist the encroachment of formal statism outside the workplace. The American founding generation feared standing armies not just because of what they could be used for in the outside society, but in fear that the outside society would be culturally subverted and its freedoms undermined by the cultural values of subordination and hierarchy promoted inside the military. The same applies to bossism, I think.

DixieFlatline said...

Rod: Dixie F. seems to be assuming that the support relation between statism and other social evils is one-way; statism gives suppport to them but doesn't derives support from them, so we can ignore the other evils and just focus on eliminating statism.

This is a strawman argument. You are welcome to quote me, but re-phrasing my position incorrectly is poor form.

Rod: I think the relation between statism and other evils is one of mutual reinforcement, which is why I think the whole mess has to be fought as a package.

I think this is too narrow. Obviously statism as institutional aggression is evil, and creates evils, however there are times when aggression is not institutional and that also is evil.

The problem with packages, is that they are exclusionary. Which is ironic, given that my understanding of LL is that exclusion is considered undesirable.

Just one of many internal contradictions.

Stephan Kinsella said...

Kevin:

"most people tend not to *like* being pushed around, even if they do so "voluntarily," and they put up with it as a necessary evil because their choices are constrained."

Kevin, it seems to me "being pushed around" is nebulous and not well defined. That is fine for attitudes and such but not really very rigorous. And while you may be able to mount a philosophical case against it I am skeptical of this, and in any case think it is far afield from what the libertarian project is about.

"So it's natural for libertarians to focus on the ways choices are constrained by a state-corporate power nexus,"

Sure, libertarians are opposed to and interested in examining the various ways in which the state harms people. Constraining choices is one way. This does not mean that "constraining choices" is in general bad; this is just the result of the way the world is, a world of scarcity and opportunity costs.

"I forget the term for it, but one of the forms of thickness involves the tendency of particular forms of "voluntary" authoritarianism to create a cultural climate which is hostile to the survival of libertarian practices."

As a practical matter, I'd agree that there are various preconditions for liberty flourishing, and we libertarians of course should favor these, as means to our end. As an example you can never have libertarian society without civilized grundnorms such as peace, respect, honesty, truth-valuing, cooperatism, and so on. Sure. We are in favor of these things. Likewise we ought, as humans for sure, and maybe even qua libertarian, to oppose things like intolerance, narrow mindedness, pettiness, and other vices or bad practices that undermine or conflict with libertarian norms or grundnorms. Sure. This is all fairly non-controversial and trivial, in my view.

"In the case of bossism, it breeds a habit of subordination and passivity;"

But you keep assuming we know what you mean by "bossism." Those of us not steeped in leftist literature and talk may be baffled by your presumption that such things are well known and obviously bad.

" and people in whom such personality traits have been inculcated by spending half their waking hours taking orders are in danger of coming to see such obedience as part of the natural order of things, and are less likely to resist the encroachment of formal statism outside the workplace."

Well, this is just one narrow observation, though; it's not rigorous or systematic, and it's just one aspect of reality, but we have to have a more general, ceteris paribus view. Nohthing is for free. To put it simply and starkly, let's say we could have a more productive, assembly-line, soul-deadening, bossist industrial society, rife with wage slavery and exploitation and "alienated" workers; or a less productive one where people live in coops and communes, with general purpose tools and their own butter churns, wearing hemp shirts and living in harmony with the bees and the snakes and the elements, singing kumbaya by campfires at night, while the teenagers explore each other without societal condemnation in the flower-painted VW vans parked down by the river. (I'm jokingly exaggerating; I trust you get my contrast here--a monotonous but more productive industrial life versus a more pastoral farmer's market localist one with less soul-deadening drudge-work.) Well, to get the latter, you have to suffer more poverty. Life's a tradeoff. Moreover, unless you can show that non-localism, assembly lines, factory labor, mass production, and so on are exclusively the result of state interference, it would seem that the demonstrated preference of the masses shows that they disagree with your own subjective preferences in this regard. And I do not believe you have shown with a good, clear, rigorous argument that one economic model leads to a more unlibertarian society than the other; in fact I would not expect any one model but many to proliferate.

DixieFlatline said...

Kevin Carson: I think the answer is that most people tend not to *like* being pushed around, even if they do so "voluntarily," .
Gary reprimanded me on the C4SS blog for claiming to know what most people think the terms socialism and capitalism mean, I expect a similar rebuke coming your way for assuming you know how people feel about their choices. After all, at least I could fall back on the common definitions of those terms as used by the economics profession. But the notion that people would voluntarily chose to be pushed around seems counter-intuitive to me. As a matter of free market choices, involuntary voluntarism is incoherent at best.

Kevin Carson: they put up with it as a necessary evil because their choices are constrained.
Their choices, as constrained by aggression/force/coercion etc would be a case of selecting a necessary evil in a distorted market. But in a free market, there would be no institutional aggression/force/coercion to qualify those choices as constrained. Agree?

Kevin Carson: So it's natural for libertarians to focus on the ways choices are constrained by a state-corporate power nexus
I suppose, although since we know the state is the nexus, we could strike roots instead of hacking at branches. I view racism, sexism, bossism as branches, like theft, murder and monopoly. The root of institutional violence and evil is the state.

"Natural for libertarians" is a reach. I believe that market based outcomes are natural.

Kevin Carson: and consequently to focus on the elimination of subordination and indignity as a beneficial side-effect of reducing the power of the state-corporate power nexus.
In a free market, without coercion, would no one choose to be subordinate voluntarily? And if they did/could choose to be subordinate voluntarily, would you be ok with that?

And likewise, indignity is a personal subjective assessment. I think selling one's body for sex lacks dignity, but if someone choose voluntarily to do it, my subjective feelings of what is and is not dignified action does not trump the subjective feelings of the actor themselves.

To think otherwise, would be authoritarian.

Gary Chartier said...

This is proving to be a very lively conversation.

I don’t think one needs to be steeped in leftist literature to know what is meant by bossism. I am not sure that there is a rigorous, highly formal way of giving content to talk about “bossism” or “treating people like dirt.” But I would suggest that there is a fairly simple test to be employed here: we have good reason to object to an agent’s treating people in a way that she wouldn’t want to be treated herself. (Of course, there are various sorts of qualifications here, but I don’t think they count against the central point.) I resent being bossed around, which means, in turn, that I have good reason not to boss others around.

I am not overly interested in whether something is “unlibertarian” or not, at least not in this context; I’m interested in what rational agents have good reason to do or to avoid doing. I think Kevin and Charles have argued plausibly for the view that bossism is incompatible with the spirit of libertarianism. But if I were convinced that there was no connection whatsoever between libertarianism—construed as commitment to the NAP—and bossism, I’m not sure why that would have any particular consequences for my view of whether bossism was morally objectionable.

In any event, I am unconvinced that there is nothing particularly libertarian about being anti-authoritarian: I would regard opposition to authoritarianism as, indeed, of the very essence of any remotely attractive libertarian position. Of course there might be versions of libertarianism that could be shown to be compatible with some kinds of non-coercive authoritarianism. But I would argue that such versions of libertarianism were seriously deficient if they were construed as overall moral views because they failed to demonstrate inadequate regard for the fundamental value of liberty, broadly construed. Alternatively, if such versions of libertarianism were not intended as overall moral views but simply as views about the morality of the use of force, a reasonable actor would be open to asking moral questions broader than the question, “What possible choices are consistent with moral norms regarding the use of force?”

There are times when aggression is not institutional. There are also times when evil is not aggressive. It’s one thing to observe that the imposition of a certain kind of workplace hierarchy is voluntary in the sense that it doesn’t involve the direct employment of violence or the threat of violence: it’s not slavery. And so there’s a perfectly good argument, if one is a Rothbardian, for the conclusion that force can’t be licitly employed to alter it.

But I can’t see quite what that has to do with whether it’s wrong or not. Showing that something is non-coercive is surely not the only way of showing that it’s wrong, and so can be opposed using various forms of non-coercive social pressure, even if it’s the only way of showing that it can reasonably be opposed using force. (If you want to reserve the term “unjust” for conduct that involves the wrongful use of force, that’s fine. To say that something is unjust is often simply a way of saying that it’s wrong, however.)

It seems likely that one sort of wrongness is exhibited by the non-coercive imposition of certain kinds of constraints on other people’s choices. There are doubtless credible arguments for the view that force ought reasonably to be employed only in response to force, and that one could not, therefore, reasonably employ force to end or remedy the non-coercive imposition of constraints. But surely any number of different plausible moral theories would provide good reasons for objecting to the creation or maintenance of non-coercive constraints of various sorts.

Gary Chartier said...

Continuation:

It is not obvious why sexism, racism, or bossism would somehow be irrelevant in a free and voluntary society. (I begin here with the assumption that subordinating or excluding people on the basis of, say, sex or ethnicity is wrong. Obviously, I may be mistaken about this, but, if I am, that’s another, and distinct, conversation.) Over time, in a perfectly free and competitive market, firms that acted on the basis of irrational prejudices would either go out of business or else be forced not to act on these prejudices. But I don’t see how the reality of this kind of long-term pressure would alter the fact that individual people often would be treated wrongly on the basis of sex, ethnicity, etc.

I’m just not clear why subordination or exclusion on the basis of, say, gender is exclusively or primarily a branch of state coercion. Is there a connection between the two? Of course—there are multiple connections. But it seems to me that, with or without the state, people are likely to subordinate or exclude others wrongly on the basis of gender. In a truly freed market, this will doubtless be more difficult than it is at present, but individuals who are thus subordinated or excluded by actors in a freed market will have been wronged, whether or not the overall trend within such a market is toward the elimination of the kinds of wrongs they’ve suffered.

It’s not clear to me why someone mightn’t be mistaken about whether a given action violated her or his own dignity. So I can’t see why objecting to an action as wronging someone even if the person wronged doesn’t understand herself to be wronged would be authoritarian. Using coercive force to make her or him act as one believes she or he should would doubtless be authoritarian, but reaching a rational conclusion that her or his action was wrong seems perfectly consistent with rejecting authoritarianism.

But that’s really beside the point with regard to the workplace. Most people subject to workplace hierarchies are most unlikely to insist that they really do wish to be disempowered at work, that anyone who calls for participatory democracy in the workplace is an authoritarian who is ignoring their freedom to subject themselves to managerial authority.

Finally, to DF: apologies for the reprimand; I don’t intend to be anyone’s school-marm.

Kevin Carson said...

Stephan: Although I'm sure I haven't demonstrated it to your satisfaction, one of the central focuses of my work has been the proposition that government shifts the terms of the tradeoff. That is, it shifts the competitive balance between hierarchy and (if you'll excuse the Cartmanism) "g-d tree-hugging hippie crap" in terms of productivity, and increases the amount of hierarchy we have to endure for a given level of consumption. In this case, absent government subsidies to centralization and hierarchy, the Billy Jack commune would entail far less in the way of productivity tradeoffs.

Gary Chartier said...

I just revisited Stephan's earlier comment and noted that he didn't argue for the compatibility of libertarianism and authoritarianism but rather of libertarianism and authority; my implicit reference to his view was in this way inaccurate.

Roderick T. Long said...

Stephan,

it's question-begging to assume "bossism" is similarly bad

Well, when Kevin has just published a 600-page book filled with arguments that bossism is bad, I don't think he's begging any questions by mentioning that view here.

Dixie F.,

This is a strawman argument. You are welcome to quote me, but re-phrasing my position incorrectly is poor form.

I don't see how it's a strawman. You said we didn't need to focus on these other evils because they'd all go away without the state. Or if that's not what you meant, what did you mean?

Stephan Kinsella said...

Kevin:

"Stephan: Although I'm sure I haven't demonstrated it to your satisfaction, one of the central focuses of my work has been the proposition that government shifts the terms of the tradeoff. That is, it shifts the competitive balance between hierarchy and (if you'll excuse the Cartmanism) "g-d tree-hugging hippie crap" in terms of productivity, and increases the amount of hierarchy we have to endure for a given level of consumption. In this case, absent government subsidies to centralization and hierarchy, the Billy Jack commune would entail far less in the way of productivity tradeoffs."

This is possible. And I do not deny the state is distorting this and other things. But this does not persuade me we would have the agrarian, localist model, or the shunning of mass production, large firms, division of labor, distance trade, and the like, in a free market.

But let's remove the shackles and find out--I'm game! For now I'm glad you guys are at least anti-state.

"I just revisited Stephan's earlier comment and noted that he didn't argue for the compatibility of libertarianism and authoritarianism but rather of libertarianism and authority; my implicit reference to his view was in this way inaccurate."

Thanks. I was wondering what you were talking about.

Roderick:

"when Kevin has just published a 600-page book filled with arguments that bossism is bad, I don't think he's begging any questions by mentioning that view here."

If someone can point me to a section that carefully defines "bossism," I'd be happy to read it and show you what is wrong with it :) Seriously at this point all I see is that "good socialism" is concerned with the evil of bossism, and the evil of deprivation, while the latter is the concern of all libertarianism; and bossism has something to do with "pushing people around," or perhaps any employer-employee relationship. Seems far-fetched to me. I like my theory near-fetched.

david scott said...

Although, I personally am so far to the left that even the democrats appear to me to be "right-wing," I consider myself to be a strict constitutionalist. It is my opinion that since its inception there has been an organized and systematic assault by the conservatives in the United States on the civil liberties written into the US Constitution. The “War on Drugs”; “War on Terror”; “War on Communism” and a host of other wars waged by the right wing are really nothing more than a War on People--an excuse to erode civil rights to the point of non-existence. I invite you to my website devoted to raising awareness on this puritan attack on freedom: http://pltcldscsn.blogspot.com/

DixieFlatline said...

Gary: I don’t think one needs to be steeped in leftist literature to know what is meant by bossism.

On the contrary, I think one has to be steeped in historical materialism to know what is meant by bossism.

Gary: I am not sure that there is a rigorous, highly formal way of giving content to talk about “bossism” or “treating people like dirt.” But I would suggest that there is a fairly simple test to be employed here: we have good reason to object to an agent’s treating people in a way that she wouldn’t want to be treated herself.

Would you agree that only she can determine what is and is not bossism? And that she may be accepting of treatment from others which differs from her own, particularly if she feels that tolerance is to her benefit?

Gary: But I don’t see how the reality of this kind of long-term pressure would alter the fact that individual people often would be treated wrongly on the basis of sex, ethnicity, etc.

As a non-white who has faced his share of discrimination, by what method to you presume to know when I am and am not being treated wrongly? I'm curious how you might know better than me.

Gary: DF: apologies for the reprimand; I don’t intend to be anyone’s school-marm.

I'd rather you reprimand Kevin as well. It might encourage him to return to the discussion and answer my last comment to him.

Kevin Carson said...

Dixie Flatline: My guess as to what most other people prefer is provisional, but I think based on common sense. In cases where people do not care for their circumstances (i.e. subordination), I think it's valid to consider whether the state restricts their range of alternatives. If they do prefer their alternatives, I have no desire to "force them to be free."

So I'm not sure what you want to see me "rebuked" for. As for what Gary allegedly rebuked you for, I have no idea what it was about or whether your recollection of the incident is valid; but given the rather sloppy reading of my piece evidenced by your case at C4SS, I'd say the burden of proof lies with you.

DixieFlatline said...

Rod: I don't see how it's a strawman. You said we didn't need to focus on these other evils because they'd all go away without the state.

Actually, you claimed that it "seemed" that was what I was saying. Either I did, or I did not.

So looking back, did I?

The thick libertarian debate, seems to focus around anti-state issues, that would by and large be non-issues post-state.

Unless one interprets "by and large" to mean "all", it seems I did not.

Rod: Or if that's not what you meant, what did you mean?

Ah, progress.

I meant what I wrote and re-quoted in this response. The thick position seems to be based on historical materialism, not recognizing that we have never had a free market, and the problems of a statist paradigm, particularly the institutional ones, may not be the problems we face post-state.

Now I, unlike some, don't pretend to know what the post-state world will look like (urban sprawl, flatter economy). In fact, I agree with Stephan that there will likely be a lot of diversity.

I don't claim to know what choices people will make in markets I can't even imagine. I certainly, as an austro-libertarian would also be inclined to acknowledge that I cannot know, or predict the behaviour of individual market actors, and by extension, the aggregate of human action.

But one thing I can be reasonably certain of, is that without institutional aggression, we will likely not have institutional racism or sexism.

Does this mean there will be sexism and racism? I would say so. But people will not be prevented from dealing with it or seeking alternatives to those situations as they are now.

DixieFlatline said...

KC: In cases where people do not care for their circumstances (i.e. subordination), I think it's valid to consider whether the state restricts their range of alternatives. If they do prefer their alternatives, I have no desire to "force them to be free."

We're not talking about under the state.

We're talking about people choosing subordination in the free market. If they choose, voluntarily, subordination, where do you stand on that?

Kevin Carson said...

Dixie Flatline: To repeat, I am not interested in second-guessing the choices of anyone who prefers to be treated badly. My only concern is with those who are treated badly against their wishes, even "voluntarily" as a lesser evil which they must put up with because of a restricted range of alternatives. And in the latter case, I am interested in the role that statism has in restricting the range of alternatives.

The answer to your questions should be clear from a careful reading of what I wrote before.

Richard said...

This was an interesting post, though I would like to make two comments:

First, your definition of "socialism" is very broad. This possibly reflects the position of actual socialists who identify socialism with a particular end, not the means, and so would claim that the USSR, for instance, was not socialist because it did not have the results they wanted. These results themselves become vague, so that socialism becomes, in practical debate "when nice things happen," and capitalism is "when the bad stuff happens."

My second comment is that some of the socialists you reference do not advocate what you call socialism. Suppose I include both Marx/Engels and Benjamin Tucker as socialists. Well, marx and Engels, in response to Bakunin, said that factories were best run hierarchically. Tucker, meanwhile, explicitly said that, a free market once having been established, and so "usury" abolished, it was irrelevent whether workers employed themselves or worked for bosses. Marx and Engels, then, were pro-bossism, whilst Tucker was indifferent to it. For these people it would seem that only the second part of your definition holds true: That socialism is about the abolition of want or poverty. But everybody has advocated this, which would make everybody a socialist!

Gary Chartier said...

Richard, thanks for reflecting on what I had to say.

I'm not a Platonist about names, at least no in general, and I don't have a great deal invested in using this term rather than another. I just think that using it is a valuable way of signifying opposition to exploitation and hierarchy and support for measures designed to help people deal with economic insecurity.

Re. Tucker and bossism: I suppose I'd say that, if workers want to work for bosses—well, more power to them. But if the supports for the power of big business are removed (as Tucker clearly thought would be the case in the absence of the four monopolies), it seems to me that people will be a lot freer to organize partnerships and coops and work as independent contractors; the scales won't be tipped in favor of the large hierarchical organization. Whether that's exactly Tucker's view, it is surely quite consistent with it. I'm not endorsing everything Tucker ever said; but I think that favoring radical legal-cum-political changes that are both pro-worker and pro-market puts Tucker and me in the same camp.

Stephan Kinsella said...

Gary, your comment about supports for the power of big business is provocative. It seems to me many of the left-libertarians for various (personal, etc.) reasons have more dislike for modern industrialism, capitalism, institutions, authority structures, mass production, and so on. They prefer the vision of a less bossist world, less labor-alienated, less mass-production, more localist, self-sufficient, whatever.

I think in their desire to paint such a world as natural--which can then be used as a contrast to show that the current industrialist society is largely unjust and distorted--they overemphasize the state "support" for aspects of capitalism. For example they argue that without the state, there would be no corporations (and so more localism, less bossism, fewer multi-national enterprises), less international or long-distance transportation (and so more localism, self-sufficiency), no ability for "absentee" ownership (so no lending, leasing, renting, no factories (the workers would just take them over), no apartment buildings (the tenants would take them over)), and so on.

Well of course if you stack the deck this way, you get the results you want. If you claim that a free(d) market would not permit the various institutional features of modern capitalism, then voila, out pops some localist commune, mutal aid societies, "wildcat" strikes, worker "coops," and so on.

Now, it is no doubt right that the economy and society would change significantly, and for the better, absent state intervention. Carson e.g. is no doubt right that state subsidies for roads and transportation distorts the market. But that does not mean there would be no such commerce or roads absent the state. And the mutualist view of absentee ownership, which seems to render illegal the ability to rent property or to own more than one or two factories etc., is not merely at one end of the libertarian spectrum on abandonment; it is false (see A Critique of Mutualist Occupancy). And if you remove state privileges for incorporation, that does not mean that the essential features of corporations would go away; similar business entities could easily arise, as Hessen has shown.

There is every reason to think that in a free, stateless society that respected libertarian property rights, there would be thriving commerce, capitalism, and industrialism; there would still be bosses and employees and wage-jobs; there would still be large "corporations" (call them Hessens if you prefer); there would still be international trade and commerce; there would be still be a division of labor and mass production. And there would no doubt be lots more things, such as more ability to devote time to leisure, the arts, avocations, and self-sufficiency if you prefer that.

Kevin Carson said...

Richard: Until the 20th century, almost all socialists defined "socialism" in terms of ends rather than means. Even Engels, the most statist and pro-hierarchy of the state socialists, defined socialism as the possession of political and economic power by the working class, and considered statism a means rather than a defining characteristic. It was only in the 20th century that people (especially Mises) began to identify statism as such with socialism, regardless of its end.

Engels would have laughed himself silly at the suggestion that the welfare state and industry nationalizations carried out under Bismarck were "socialistic." They might have been a prerequisite for socialism, if political power were later seized by the working class. But as they were, they were simply a stage of capitalism in which the capitalists managed the economy through THEIR state.

I agree that Engels supported bossism, but he believed (perversely) that it was the most efficient way of maximizing production in an overall system of political economy controlled at the macro level by workers. Of course that's nonsense; large bureaucratic hierarchies serve the interests of those running the machinery, regardless of who's nominally represented in the Parliament or Board of Directors. But Engels still at least understood socialism as a particular form of class rule, not statism as such.

I think Marx was more complicated. I don't know enough biographical material to know how fully he approved of the direction in which Engels took their joint project in his time of declining energy and health. But his individual work (e.g. his analysis of the Paris Commune) certainly has a different flavor from the stuff that Engels put the final polish on--let alone the stuff that Engels and Kautsky both got their grubby little paws on.

Gary Chartier said...

I am fascinated and flattered to see the conversation about this post restart after half a year.

I agree, Stephan, that in any sort of stateless society I'd want to live in, there would be thriving commerce and industrial production. I'm not a primitivist or anything of the sort.

I don't imagine that, at least in the sort of community for which GC Protection Services would facilitate dispute resolution, anyone would put a gun to a boss's head and insist that she step aside.

I do, however, think that, when most people have the option to avoid working for bosses, they do so. That's an empirical claim: perhaps it's wrong. If there are people who want to work under bosses, more power to 'em.

I also think that, without state-sponsored monopolies, subsidies, regulations, etc., people would be, on average, more likely to have the option of avoiding boss-directed labor. That is, I think, a praxeological claim. Just how much more likely is, of course, an empirical one.

But if, in any event, people do prefer to avoid boss-directed labor, and the absence of the state would make it more likely that they could avoid it, it seems a fair bet that they would.

there would still be bosses and employees and wage-jobs; there would still be large "corporations" (call them Hessens if you prefer); there would still be international trade and commerce; there would be still be a division of labor and mass production. And there would no doubt be lots more things, such as more ability to devote time to leisure, the arts, avocations, and self-sufficiency if you prefer that.

Stephan Kinsella said...

Gary:

"I agree, Stephan, that in any sort of stateless society I'd want to live in, there would be thriving commerce and industrial production. I'm not a primitivist or anything of the sort."

Yes; I dont mean to imply you are. But there are hints in this direction among some left-libertarians. In my view the extreme localist view is naive and like a curious mixture of conservative agrarianism and back-to-nature romanticizing of the anti-industrialist left environmentalists.

"I do, however, think that, when most people have the option to avoid working for bosses, they do so. That's an empirical claim: perhaps it's wrong. If there are people who want to work under bosses, more power to 'em."

I think we'd be much richer so there would be more ability to devote to leisure and avocation, sure; and to earlier retirement; and there would be a more vibrant and diverse economy, with more options for everyone. Sure.

"I also think that, without state-sponsored monopolies, subsidies, regulations, etc., people would be, on average, more likely to have the option of avoiding boss-directed labor. That is, I think, a praxeological claim. Just how much more likely is, of course, an empirical one."

I am not sure it's praxeological, for a few reasons. First, "boss" to me is more of an artificial statist legal category than a natural one. (See my post
The Over-reliance on State Classifications: "Employee" and "Shareholder".) If you are a contractor or consultant you still work "for" your client(s). Even an entrepreneur has a "boss"--the customers. I don't know if there is a meaningful distinction here absent the artificial categories of employer/employee imposed by the state (for purposes of taxation, regulation and control)--and there is a similar point to be made about "shareholders" and "ownership" and "corporations"--libertarians need to stop relying in their arguments on the validity of state classifications IMO.

Gary Chartier said...

Stephan: you say, “I think we'd be much richer so there would be more ability to devote to leisure and avocation, sure; and to earlier retirement; and there would be a more vibrant and diverse economy, with more options for everyone. Sure.”

I agree on these points, but I didn’t mean just to say that people would prefer shorter work-weeks and work-days (some wouldn’t and some, doubtless, wouldn’t). I mean to say that people will opt for patterns of work in which they get to control their own worklives.

"I also think that, without state-sponsored monopolies, subsidies, regulations, etc., people would be, on average, more likely to have the option of avoiding boss-directed labor. That is, I think, a praxeological claim. Just how much more likely is, of course, an empirical one."

What I intended as the praxeological claim is that independent contractors, coops, and partnerships would be more competitive, and so more plentiful, in an an environment free of monopoly privileges, etc.

Obviously, whether someone is or has a boss is a matter of degrees. And that’s fine: I have no investment in a rigid classification here. It seems to me that it will make most sense to say that someone has a boss when (a) her span of control is limited; (b) her work is defined as much or more in terms of process than in terms of outcome; and (c) the person who reviews her work isn’t accountable to her. These are factors to be weighed and assessed situationally, not bright-line tests for the presence or absence of a boss.

Stephan Kinsella said...

Gary: "I didn’t mean just to say that people would prefer shorter work-weeks and work-days (some wouldn’t and some, doubtless, wouldn’t). I mean to say that people will opt for patterns of work in which they get to control their own worklives."

I know. But I think having more wealth along at least complements this. That's what I meant, in part, by avocation--you can subsidize your real interests (avocation) with income from your other pursuits (labor). I think it's a bit utopian to assume everyone can or would shun all labor. There will still be opportunity cost and tradeoffs. Some would prefer more income, even at the expense of having a boss or a less satisfying career, to a lower income and nicer job.

"What I intended as the praxeological claim is that independent contractors, coops, and partnerships would be more competitive, and so more plentiful, in an an environment free of monopoly privileges, etc."

Firms form for a reason. And there is an upper limit to their size too, as Klein discusses in his seminal article on the size of the firm and calculation problems. But "firm" just means some kind of cooperative arrangement; it is not relevant how the state classifies the contractual status of the internal relationships.

"Obviously, whether someone is or has a boss is a matter of degrees. And that’s fine: I have no investment in a rigid classification here. It seems to me that it will make most sense to say that someone has a boss when (a) her span of control is limited; (b) her work is defined as much or more in terms of process than in terms of outcome; and (c) the person who reviews her work isn’t accountable to her."

To me, these are all non-objective, loosely-defined factors--not really rigorous libertarian or economic reasoning. They are a matter of practical judgment more than anything--which is fine, but their relevance for libertarian thinking is thus limited, IMO (btw they are similar to the state's tests for "employee").

"These are factors to be weighed and assessed situationally, not bright-line tests for the presence or absence of a boss."

Right. It's just one fact among many that people consider when deciding how to run their lives. Leftists seem extremely interested in/concerned with this category, however.

I imagine a future free'd society with a bustling capitalist society, and enclaves of relatively-more-poor left-lib enclave-communes, that the modernists visit on the weekends much like city slickers now visit the Amish in Lancaster. Heh. Kidding. Sort of. :)

Gary Chartier said...

I’m not excessively interested in whether the categories I’ve offered here track the state’s. I’m not talking about what a contemporary legal code says or what a good legal code ought to say. I’m concerned with the presence or absence of bosses in two contexts—explanatory and moral.

As a matter of explanation: I think people like to be free of bosses—they like extensive spans of control, they like their work to be defined in terms of outcomes rather than processes, and they like those who organize their work to be accountable to them. How much that matters to someone is obviously a function of how important a role plays in her life—how much of her time it occupies and how much it contributes to the shaping of her self-understanding. I simply maintain that most people would like to be free of bosses.

If one-person firms, coops, and partnerships are more viable without the state, then, it seems to me, people will be more likely to act on their preferences and avoid working for bosses.

What might make that more likely? Certainly firm size. But also the more ready availability of start-up capital (with the creation of a much more competitive banking sector) as well as the fact that smaller firm size makes the acquisition of the capital needed to be competitive less difficult. There’s also the fact that people who are more economically secure are more able to take risks—and greater economic security seems likely both as a function of the elimination of state-made policies that promote poverty and of the increased general level of prosperity in an economy not held back by the state. And there’s also the fact that the state wouldn’t be around to protect fortunes and holdings resulting from state-sanctioned theft and the allocation to cronies of stolen resources by the state.

To predict a decline in bossism, I don’t need a carefully defined, precise term: I simply need to be able to offer reasons for anticipating that, absent the state, there will be more independent contractors, more coops, more partnerships, that absent the state spans of control will be longer, work more likely to be defined in terms of outcomes, accountability structures democratic.

The moral claim doesn’t require any greater precision, either. I simply want to assert that people have good reason to value workplaces of the kind I’ve predicted will be more common after the state’s departure from the scene.

Stephan Kinsella said...

Gary, agreed w/ most of what you say here. I just think that the lack of precision in these notions, their practical use and relation to your personal values, just helps to illustrate that most of the leftist talk about bossism is at best a-libertarian, orthogonal to it--not a part of or implied by it. It's like a side hobby or interest of some libertarians. Fine by me.

Stephan Kinsella said...

Ah, NOW I see why you guys hate bossism! Angry boss radio ad ruled "offensive to Germans": "LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's advertising watchdog has banned a radio ad featuring a man speaking loudly in German and which asked: "Is your boss a bit of a tyrant?""

Gary Chartier said...

[gags at disregard for free speech]

Kevin Carson said...

Stephan, firms form for a reason. As Coase said, firm boundaries are determined by the point at which the transaction costs of doing stuff internally exceed those of doing it on the market. The problem is the extent to which that tipping point is artificially shifted upwards.

Re the "offensive to Germans" thing, I can imagine Basil Fawlty saying "Whatever you do, don't talk about bossism!"

Stephan Kinsella said...

Kevin, I agree the tipping point, as you call it, is likely distorted one way or the other by state intervention.

I also am baffled by leftist opposition to bosses and "bossism." First, most people always have a boss of one sort or another. If you have a small shoe shop, your customers are your bosses. Other than the state's artificial, rigid distinctions between such things that on the market naturally differ by degree only, I see no reason to make sharp distinctions. And second, I envision some entrepreneur, innovator, industrialist on the market wanting to start a business that requires more than 2 or 3 people, and envisioning doing it by hiring a number of employees with various roles. This seems natural to me, and inevitable, obvious, and innocuous in and of itself. Its prevalence, form, etc.--who can predict. But I have no reason to think the libertarian, qua libertarian--or even the decent person, qua decent person--should have any abhorrence for the practice of employment.

Kevin Carson said...

I think for most people, having a boss is a necessary evil. They accept it as the necessary price of having economic security. But having a boss as such is not neutral. Ceteris paribus, most people prefer directing their own time and using their own judgment to having someone looking over their shoulder. Of course that's not in itself an argument that it's a net undesirable. Most of us do a lot of things we probably wouldn't if we had the option of living in Cockaigne or Big Rock Candy Mountain.

I don't accept the parallel between having customers and having a boss at all, though. There is a huge difference between having to avoid alienating a large enough portion of dozens or more customers not to be able to pay the bills, and having one's entire employment income subject to the discretion of one single person. What's more, in an economy without the artificial capital outlays and fixed cost imposed by the state (and I mean both fixed costs of business and fixed costs of subsistence), the size of the steady revenue stream required to service that overhead would be accordingly much smaller, and the boundary between being in business and out of business for a self-employed person would be much more porous. In that situation, it would require a smaller number of customers to meet one's needs for a steady revenue stream.

Stephan Kinsella said...

Kevin:

"I think for most people, having a boss is a necessary evil."

Well, having to work -- labor--is a necessary evil. Such is life.

"They accept it as the necessary price of having economic security. But having a boss as such is not neutral. Ceteris paribus, most people prefer directing their own time and using their own judgment to having someone looking over their shoulder."

Right, but ceteris is not paribus.

"I don't accept the parallel between having customers and having a boss at all, though. There is a huge difference between having to avoid alienating a large enough portion of dozens or more customers not to be able to pay the bills, and having one's entire employment income subject to the discretion of one single person."

of course they are similar in some respects. that's why a company can hire an employee, or outsource, for some functions. They are not identical, true; each has its own costs and benefits.

"What's more, in an economy without the artificial capital outlays and fixed cost imposed by the state (and I mean both fixed costs of business and fixed costs of subsistence), the size of the steady revenue stream required to service that overhead would be accordingly much smaller, and the boundary between being in business and out of business for a self-employed person would be much more porous. In that situation, it would require a smaller number of customers to meet one's needs for a steady revenue stream.

Maybe. Hard to predict. But it's easy to predict there would still be firms, Hessens [my term for free market "corporations"], and employment.

David Rojas Elbirt said...

Economic incentives are founded on a core idea: accumulation of capital. And you are all bumping into the same wall, thinking inside the box variations of the same formula that include capital, power, markets, prices, etc. An excentric form of anthropocentrism.
The real turn, the next BIG thing after capitalism, will involve economics linked to maximazing Nature. That is, economic or monetary incentives focused on learning how to make simbiosis between Mankind and local and global ecologies.

Kevin Carson said...

David: The model of growth and productivity from accumulation is hitting another wall, as well: abundance.
http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/mises-and-the-neo-marxists-paleotechnic-blood-brothers/2009/10/10