Sunday, September 30, 2007

Radical Politics Chart


I made this chart. This chart represents my "political map".

The first thing to notice is that it's divided according to equality and inequality. It's my firm belief that liberty and equality are NOT dichotomous. Liberty is a natural product of equality, and equality is a natural product of liberty. What I mean by "equality" here is "classlessness", the absence of distinct classes.

The axis labeled "means of destruction" can be thought of as "who gets the guns?" or "who controls the state?" If people are to have different levels of decisionmaking power over the use of the guns, then someone subscribing to that belief is a political elitist, a statist of some variety. If you believe that there should be no distinct, perpetual classes of those with power to use violence and those without, then you support political equality.

The axis labeled "means of production" can be thought of us "who decides how to use the tools?" If you believe a few people should control all the tools, and the rest work for those people, then you are in favor of economic inequality. If you believe everybody should (or, if left alone, would) have the power to make decisions about the use of these tools, then you support economic equality, and fall under that category. I want to make it perfectly clear that I don't mean equal distribution of the actual consumer goods, not some worldwide sharing web of altruism, and I don't mean severing the link between work and reward at all or destroying profit motive at all. I also don't mean perfect economic equality, but simply the abolition of distinct economic classes of wealth in society.

Many who call themselves anarcho-capitalists are actually relatively indifferent about economic equality or inequality and take a "whatever the market gives us is good, let's just get there" stance. It isn't my intent to strawman that position, so it should be borne in mind that I would simply call those people "market anarchists", with "anarcho-capitalist" being a more specific type of market anarchist. On this chart, market anarchists belong obviously to the political equality side, but if they make no predictions, they don't belong to either the economic equality or inequality side. They're just agnostic or apathetic, but they happened upon the word "anarcho-capitalism" to describe their beliefs and think it's so perfect that they ruthlessly declare themselves anarcho-capitalists. If you are this kind of market anarchist, I'd recommend considering what you think would happen under anarchism so you can gain a deeper understanding of your own beliefs.

Anarcho-capitalism and agorism are not the same in my view. My use of "anarcho-capitalism" on this chart is to mean a variant of market anarchism that predicts essentially what we have now, minus the government. People looking for these imaginary "job" things, using other people's tools to build other people's property and getting paid according to the best guess of the owner, the market dominated by a few really large firms, a boss-worker relationship being the preferred type of economic organization. Often the Randist theme that big business is America's persecuted minority is present, and an anarcho-capitalist will think of the benevolent good-guy big businessmen being oppressed by the evil altruistic socialist government. Sometimes there's also the implicit idea that some people are just plain fifty times better than most other people, and so they'll naturally get fifty times richer, and there's really no explanation provided for it. Belief in the existence of a class of natural-born elite does conflict with anarchism. That's the kind of thing that I call "anarcho-capitalism". If you want or predict a society as I have just described, then you are an anarcho-capitalist as I have placed it on the chart above.

A quick word about the Austrian School. While I admire the Austrian methodology and most of it's conclusions and reasoning, and I link to it from this blog as an intellectual resource, I don't unquestioningly accept all their conclusions and definitions. Like any group of imperfect people, they make mistakes too. The tendency of Austrians to call whatever they advocate "Capitalism" and to call anything else "Socialism" is one of the places I differ with them. I do my best to avoid creating confusion through the misapplication of labels (as you might notice by my insistence on explaining things every time I label something).

So when I put agorism on the same side as socialism, I do not mean this to be interpreted as agorism being statist, or being anti-market, or being a warm-and-fuzzy altruistic belief in sharing and goodwill, or being anti-property, I mean it to be in favor of economic equality. To borrow an example from Brad Spangler, a radical socialist would call NAFTA "capitalism", whereas a radical capitalist would call NAFTA "socialism", and both would condemn it. On the other hand, I have spoken to self-avowed socialists and self-avowed capitalists who both see an agorist world as I described it to them (worker-entrepreneurs own their own means of production, worker-cooperatives for factories and such, little if any big business, no state, no taxation, and an explanation of the justice system) as something that they would support and like to see happen; my "socialist" friends consider it socialism, my "capitalist" friends consider it capitalism. Please don't get hung up on these words. The capitalist's idea of the capitalism/socialism dichotomy and the socialist's idea of the capitalism/socialism dichotomy probably will differ significantly.

Agorism and libertarian socialism are in the same square. There's some libertarian socialists out there with what I'd consider some really dumb beliefs about money and ownership and power and such, but what qualifies them as libertarian socialist is that they believe in political equality and oppose political elitism, and they believe in economic equality and oppose economic elitism.

Also note that fascism and "state capitalism" (what we have today) are in the same square. Before any radical capitalists chime in to tell me that fascism is actually socialism, and the Nazis were "national socialists", I'm going to remind them that politics is an art of lies, and that calling people whatever descriptor they want to be called irrelevant of the actual meanings of the words (thinking of democrats as democratic, thinking of republicans as supporters of constitutional republic in more than just rhetoric, thinking of national-socialists as actual socialists, etc) is a good way to shoot yourself in the cortex and limit your ability to think straight in relation to these ideas. Fascism isn't socialism. Yes it's collectivist, yes it's anti-free-market, no it's not socialism.

If you've got an opinion or question about my chart or my explanation of it, please leave a comment.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Interest

Historically anarchists have been opposed to interest, as well as rent and other things. One particularly interesting anarchist to me is Benjamin Tucker. It was his contention that in a world without a banking monopoly (read as "free market"), interest rates would practically fall to the cost of administration, tracking, and collecting on the loans. I'd like to believe he was right, but don't see how it's possible.

There is only so much capital in the world, only so much that can be loaned out, and only so much willingness to loan it out to the future at the expense of the present. The demand for this capital, by contrast, is practically infinite. There is an opportunity cost for lending money out of a finite supply of savings. Some of the things credit would be spent on will be more productive of wealth than others. I hate to use a hypothetical situation with absurd circumstances to demonstrate a principle, but it's easy to do, so I will.

Let us suppose that most people are using most of their wealth to satisfy their present needs, and they either can't or refuse to save any more and a bank has only $10,000 to loan.

Enterprise A has done calculations and predicts that total profits from the increase in production would exceed $10,000 in six months if it gets that $10,000 now. Enterprise B has similarly reached the conclusion that the money can be used to increase profits to a total of $10,000 one year from now. Enterprise C has found an exceptional opportunity that it believes will allow it to meet it's expenses and have $20,000 in profit in 3 months. One enterprise will create a $10,000 surplus in 6 months, another create a $10,000 surplus in 1 year, the third will create a $20,000 surplus in 3 months. It should be obvious enough which enterprise should receive the money if they can't all get it.

Without interest, whoever got to the lender first would get the capital, irrespective of the actual results. The lender has no incentive to hold out on Enterprise B to see if Enterprise A or Enterprise C might come along and promise better results. But Enterprise C has much more to gain than either of the other enterprises, and will be willing to pay more than the administration costs to ensure that he secures that $10,000 this moment. And so an excess is created that would be considered interest.

Now, in reality, it's unlikely that such high rates of return will be so frequent that loans must be considered at that interest rate. In the above hypothetical situation, an interest rate of 101% per year will cause Enterprise B to not want the loan, and an interest rate of 101% per six months will cause Enterprise A to turn it down. In the real world we've got much more credit to put toward much less lucrative opportunities, but we have, nonetheless, a limited amount of capital today, and infinite opportunities to use it, ranging from creating a surplus of value (investing in a business) to creating a negative return (getting into debt over a fifth vacation home on the Hawaiian shoreline for instance), that nonetheless, people will want.

Consider the impossibility of building a computer in agrarian times. They could not take out enough capital to build a computer, for enough didn't even exist in the world at the time. If everyone were to put all their effort toward building a computer back then, they still would not have a computer, and would run out of food before they were done figuring out magnets, and would have been generally unhappy while doing so, being hungry, thirsty, tired, and so forth. It is not possible to invest more toward the future than exists in the present. And most of what exists in the present is used to satisfy present needs. To a degree, people will give up their present needs in favor of future goods, depending on how much better the future good will be and how far in the future it can be had.

Decisions as to how limited savings will be used have to be made, and while I certainly admit that other ways of doing it can exist, interest seems the most sensible way to coordinate the two in a continuous way.

So while I'm against rent (as in, you're better off owning than renting), and against wage slavery (as in, you're better off as an entrepreneur), I really don't see it as reasonable to be opposed to interest.

A potential problem that interest might present is that it is a positive feedback system that has the potential to eventually dominate, like the bacterium which, under ideal conditions and having infinite resources, would expand to flood the earth in bacteria in a year, and destroy everything else.

But I think in a freed market the banks would be paying almost as much in interest to those who put their savings in that bank as it would be taking in from those who are indebted to the bank, ultimately spreading the profits to anybody who is willing to save. And for anybody who didn't save and fell behind economically as the rest of the economy advanced, an opportunity would exist to take advantage of the surrounding infrastructure built by others, the rewards for advancing would far exceed the cost of the loan, and once the debt was cleared and their hands more productive, they could easily be right back on par with the rest of society. I might have to elaborate on this later though, because it's still kinda fuzzy to me.

At least that's my take on it.

Wage Slavery

I hoped I'd been adequately clear in my previous post on the subject, where I tried to avoid using this language because it pisses some people off and makes them stop listening, but apparently while using that language I wasn't clear enough. So I'll drop the euphemism and stop phrasing around the bush.

In the experience of most libertarians, the people who have used the term "wage slavery" have inevitably used them to rationalize a belief in state necessity or the abolition of money or something dumb like that, and thus unfairly dismissed the whole idea. I think there's a valuable lesson to be learned in the socialist viewpoint.

The common libertarian rebuttal is that working for a wage is a choice, making it voluntary, and precluding it from being slavery, and this is a mostly valid rebuttal, if a bit shallow, applying the "I don't see a gun, I don't see a bureaucrat, that means it's voluntary" way of thinking. The common socialist line that "you don't have a choice whether or not to work" also has some validity, although it is phrased amazingly poorly for digestion by a libertarian mind, especially in this context where the libertarian is looking for anything to pick apart.

The fact of the matter is that the market at present, is not free, and the market conditions are unfairly favorable to employers of wage labor, creating a condition of the employers having more control over the workers than they would fairly have, a condition which might be aptly called "wage slavery", and this is a condition libertarians ought to be opposed to.

The price of refined sugar in the United States is four times the world sugar price. Do you have to buy sugar? Are you forced to buy sugar at gunpoint? Technically no, but it's such a widely-used substance that this price increase is going to work it's way into your budget, directly or not. Do libertarians say that it's wrong to prevent the government from regulating sugar in this way, or do they proclaim that "buying sugar is voluntary, so there's nothing wrong with the sugar market"? No, they don't. However, apply the same conditions to the labor market and the crime seems to vanish in an opaque cloud of invisible hands.

It may be a fairer comparison to refer to income taxes. In this case, the libertarian is forced to observe that valid portion of the socialist line "you don't have a choice whether or not to work", in order to declare the taxation to not be truly voluntary despite choosing to pay taxes in favor of making the guns show themselves. This limited choice, however, as libertarians will note, does nothing to change the involuntary nature of the government's receipt of their money. "Wage slavery" is extremely similar to income taxation, although much less direct, and rather than the government getting the excess money, it is the employer that gets it. To the degree that one's hypothetical free-market wages have been reduced to one's real wages, it may aptly be said that the employee or taxpayer is being robbed.

When I say I am opposed to "wage slavery", I am not saying that I am opposed to work, or that I am opposed to money, or that working for a living is slavery, or that earning or paying a wage is a criminal act, I don't believe any of those things. I'm saying that I'm opposed to theft, no matter how direct or indirect this theft may be, no matter how "politically correct" to libertarians my observations may be.

"Wage slavery" is slavery. When blacks were owned as slaves, they were often paid a wage in the form of food and housing, and sometimes given money to spend in the market. This did not make them any less slaves. Their hands worked the fields, and their masters took the product of this labor, according to Lockean and Rothbardian property theory, the property of the slave. Slavery is persistent, continuous, ongoing theft. And that's something that can be observed in the present-day market, if you know to look for it.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Generally Stupid Objections

My criteria for putting them in this list is that it's such a popular objection, that it's really pretty stupid to think that the recipient anarchist hasn't heard it before or that it didn't change their mind last time but this time it'll work. Hopefully now I can just point people to this instead of answering their dumb statements.

"Anarchy is chaos."
Only in metaphor according to popular culture which doesn't know what anarchism is in the first place, and thus can't make adequate metaphor of it. The word "anarchism" has a much more pertinent meaning, go look that up.

"The government does good things."
The bad things government does far outweigh the good things, especially when considering that most of the good things government does would get done anyways without the government.

"Read/watch [fictional work], that's why anarchy doesn't work."
Honestly this is too stupid to even merit rebuttal. I'm mentioning it only because it's such a self-evidently impotent argument that it shows how dumb some of these objections can be.

"Blah blah necessary evil blah blah."
Well-known figures of speech are not axiomatically true.

"You're just a hateful little bitch."
Ad hominem.

"You're too young blah blah blah..."
Tell Rothbard. Also, ad hom.

"Rights are things the government gives the people."
Well then where did the group of people in "the government" get their rights from to give to everyone else? If they can create them ad nihilo, so can I. Governments aren't magic.

"In a democracy, we are the government."
We are supposedly given some control over the government. This does not make us the government.

"Well since anything that makes a decision is a government blah blah blah..."
This argument defines it's way out of the applicability of the arguments against government. Unfortunately, for this very same reason, it doesn't do anything to refute anarchist claims where they are intended to apply, which is to say, the state, and thus doesn't refute anything.

"If you go against the government they'll throw you in jail."
Argument from intimidation is fallacious.

"Mises wasn't an anarchist."
He wasn't infallible either.

"We The People..."
...are not one single consciousness with one single will able to make something voluntary to all by pretending we did.

"...the Constitution of the United States..."
...is invalid, as Lysander Spooner so thoroughly proved in the 1860s.

"If you live here, you're consenting."
If I live in the ghetto, am I consenting to have my bicycle stolen?

"Love it or leave it."
You don't own the country, you have no right to tell me to.

"Look at the aftermath of Katrina."
What a great example of government failure. With all the weapons confiscation, roadblocks, FEMA crawling all over the region inside the government-built failed levees, you can say that it was chaos, but you can't say it was anarchy. Government set the dominoes up, and went out of it's way to knock them all down. The example has nothing to do with anarchy or anarchism.

"Look at Somalia."
Supposedly there isn't a government except the one that supposedly is, and the UN and US and Ethiopia were meddling in the region, and Somalia was essentially the poorest country on earth even when it had a state, thus Somalia being a wartorn shithole is no effective argument against anarchism at all.

"We should work within the system."
The state is inherently evil, and it isn't going to abolish itself by vote. Anything less than complete abolition is temporary relief and delays the government's ultimately destroying itself as all governments do. Like inflation, it feels good in the short term but is ultimately counterproductive in the long term.

"If men were angels, we wouldn't need a government."
If men were angels, the government wouldn't have the problems that support arguments in favor of anarchism.

"Anarchy assumes all people are good."
If all people are good, government is unnecessary. If all people are bad, government is intolerable. If some are good and some are bad, the bad will seek to dominate the good through government. In no case is government desirable.

"But it's too extreme!"
Too extreme for what? Not too extreme to be realized, communism, despite it's flaws, went from manifesto to revolution in 70 years. Not too extreme to be true, extreme consistency does not make something invalid, just the opposite.

"Gangs of criminals will just take over and oppress us like dictators!"
Well, it's certainly possible (that's how we got governments in the first place), but using this as an argument to support government is hypocritical because it supports gangs of criminals taking over and oppressing us, which it's intended to stop. The same forces that smashed the old state would prevent the formation of a new one.

"Governments are necessary for cooperation."
Cooperation is necessary for government. Which came first, a cooperative group of people, or a government? Either cooperation does not require government, or government never would have formed.

"Anarchy is against human nature because people are meant to obey others."
Even if true (and it's not), this wouldn't disprove statelessness. You can still obey others and not have a state. You're just choosing a leader rather than having one forced on you. The state doesn't pass the objection, however. At the top of government are the final rulers, these people do not obey any others. This would be against human nature.

If you believe I have missed one, please leave a comment, and I will add it to this list.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Intellectual Property

In the material world, we've got this inconvenient little thing called scarcity. Objects are discrete, and there is only one of each object, but there are many people all with their own plans for the use of such objects, and these objects cannot be used in two mutually exclusive ways at the same time, even though people's plans for such objects may be mutually exclusive. An object can only be and do one thing at a time. A car cannot be in the driveway of my residence ready for me to use, in the Walmart parking lot ready for you to use when you finish shopping, and on the highway being used to take some kids to a soccer game, all at the same time. Yet me, my friend, and my neighbor, and for that matter the rest of mankind, can all think of uses for that car that better suit their own needs than the use I choose for it. But only one of us can get our way.

In the interests of preventing unnecessary destruction of such valuable objects, we have what we call "property". Property is the freedom to enforce one's decisions as to how an object will be used against others who attempt also to act upon decisions made about the same object. Along with this freedom comes responsibility. Actions have consequences. You alone are permitted the freedom to use force to impose your decision as to the use of your property, but you alone bear the consequences for those actions. Should your actions have consequences which others bear, you have violated their exclusive right to decide how their property should be used. For while they may have decided their property should not be used as a dump, you may be dumping your trash onto their property, a decision which you are excluded from making. And in most cases, they will shift the burden of the consequences, the costed opportunities, back onto you. You'll owe them restitution for the opportunities you have cost them.

Property rights only apply to objects, though. They must apply to objects, but they can only apply to objects. Ideas and information are not subject to scarcity. The opportunity cost of using an idea is nonexistent. Everybody can have the same idea and use it their own way at the same time. There is no basis for any exclusivity in decisionmaking power over ideas. And, more damningly, property in ideas is incompatible with property in objects.

Unauthorized reproductions of intellectual "property" does not prevent the original creator from making any decisions which they have the right to make. The only way it could is if every creator of ideas instantly became partial owner of every information storage medium in the universe. Only then would they have any right to tell anyone else that they have no right to reproduce an idea.This is incompatible with any absolute right of property to the owner of the storage medium. Intellectual property not only lacks the foundations needed to justify any exclusivity, but enforcing it means denying the basis for property in the first place. Affirming intellectual property is saying the owner of the printing press can do whatever they want with the press and that the creator of an idea can tell the owner of the printing press what they can print. They're not compatible.

It's not as if people will simply stop creating in a world without copyrights and patents and intellectual property. The open source movement is sufficient proof of this. It is an actively creative group of people, making software that they know in advance they'll have no exclusive right over, that they know in advance, derivative works will be made out of with no permission asked nor expected, that they know in advance their name will not necessarily be seen on it. And yet, there is a market. The common objection that artists and creators and inventors would stop creating if they thought they would not have exclusive right to it. And yet, in the open source movement, people are making money doing what is equivalent to writing books that anyone may obtain for free and reproduce as they want. Clearly, that objection, while it sounds good in theory, doesn't have as much application to the real world as it's proponents might tend to hope.

Ideas are not scarce, and proponents of intellectual property are trying to create an artificial scarcity through force where no scarcity needs to exist in the first place.