Saturday, January 26, 2008

False Dichotomies Make Bitterest Enemies

In the late 1800s there was one outstanding disagreement among individualist anarchists. They divided essentially into two camps; the Natural Law anarchists, including Lysander Spooner, and the Egoists, including Benjamin Tucker.

Tucker was the first to translate Max Stirner's "The Ego and His Own" into english. This is where Tucker got his rationale for individualist anarchism from. Stirner's Egoism was something that would offend a lot of libertarians these days. His position can be summed up accurately as "might makes right". In Stiner's words, "I do not step shyly back from your property, but look upon it always as my property, in which I respect nothing. Pray do the like with what you call my property!"

Lysander Spooner took a very different view. Spooner believed in a natural law, discoverable by inquiry. This was his rationale for individualist anarchism. Spooner rejected "might makes right" outright, as most libertarians would today.

Eventually the disagreement caused a split movement.

These two ideas were, supposedly, two alternatives to the same thing; two rationales for the same idea. If you weren't one of them, you were the other (or you were not an individualist anarchist). You couldn't be both. Yet I find that, right now, I'm both.

When Max Stirner proposed his "might makes right" ethic, he was stating simple facts about the way ownership practically works. The state does not control all of the property it does because they are better traders than anyone else. Might makes right. The state has "right" to it's property insofar as it is willing to kill people that disagree about what it's property is.

As I see it, egoism describes property, while the natural law is both predictive and prescriptive, but not descriptive. Essentially, in a Tucker/Stirnerite egoist world, Spoonerian natural law is what can be expected as the shape of an emergent, self-organizing law as it appears in anarchy. Natural law and egoism are doing different, but extremely closely related things. The forces which shape this law are universal everywhere.

It's analogous to Stirner saying "Rocks fall if you drop them" and Spooner observes "the rock fell at an accelerating rate of about 10 meters per second per second" and then wrote an equation that should describe the movement of the rock, and all rocks everywhere, and called it a law of physics. They are perfectly complementary ideas! How did this get such results out of people?

These days, we've got this new point of separation. It's an extremely fundamental thing being argued about. It's an extremely hotly argued about thing. Both sides are incessantly condescending to the other, just like in the days of Tucker and Spooner. But at least Tucker and Spooner agreed on this point.

The new one is the Labor Theory of Value vs Subjective Theory of Value.

See, the Subjective Theory states a truth on par with Stirner's egoism. The fundamental nature of value is such that individuals independently value things, and these values are not tied directly to the object. STV describes the nature of value. The Labor Theory provides principles for prediction and prescription of the values things would or should have in a more universal sense. In prediction, LTV states that prices will tend toward the costs of labor. In prescription, it advocates that the worker get the full value in exchange for their labor. Again, perfectly complementary ideas. Yet there's almost a war going on between labor value theorists and subjective value theorists.

I don't get it myself. Why can't people just take the good, useful parts of two ideas and see if they can't be reconciled?

3 Comments:

Anonymous Rorshak said...

Do you think one way to put it would be that labor is a factor in the subjective value of something?

Didn't the original labor theory of value basically say that labor is the ONLY factor in determining value?

11:03 PM  
Anonymous Kyle Bennett said...

LTV does not just say that labor is a component in value, it says that it is the only component of value. In that it is clearly irreconcilable with STV. Even the weaker statement is contradicted by the fact that things can, and often are, valued and priced below the price of the labor that went into them. LTV does not provide a means for discovering when labor should not be done at all, nor for comparing the value of alternative uses for labor. It also implies that marginal value is zero for things where marginal supply requires no additional labor.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Zhwazi said...

Rorshak: The way I'd put it is that there's a direct causal relationship between the labor put into something and it's value. Not that it's the ONLY source of value, other forces are at play as well.

Kyle: You really missed the point pretty badly right there. Please go reread the last couple paragraphs. LTV does not say that it is the "only component of value". Does Spooner's metaphorical equation to predict the motion of Stirner's metaphorical rocks become invalid because the rock stops following the equation when it hits something, or when it approaches terminal velocity? The LTV's scope is labor's role in value. Spooner's metaphorical equation's scope is gravity's role in the movement of rocks.

12:02 PM  

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