Sunday, January 27, 2008

Labor Theory of Value

I got some relatively quick responses to that last post, both of which ignored what I originally was trying to write about to talk about the LTV, which is a mere afterthought I added to the post on an immediate insight. So here's a bit about the LTV.

First of all, I think the LTV is valid. This does not mean that I think everyone's labor is worth exactly $10 per hour, or that mudpies sell for $10 if they take 1 hour to make, or any of that stuff. I associate the LTV with Adam Smith and David Ricardo, not Karl Marx. And I'm not going to defend Marx's version and I'll dismiss any objections based on Marx's version as a strawman.

Adam Smith:

"The real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it. What every thing is really worth to the man who has acquired it, and who wants to dispose of it or exchange it for something else, is the toil and trouble which it can save to himself, and which it can impose upon other people."

Notice he says "what every thing really costs", not "the price that everything sells for". All costs can be expressed as labor costs.


"The value of a commodity, or the quantity of any other commodity for which it will exchange, depends on the relative quantity of labour which is necessary for its production, and not as the greater or less compensation which is paid for that labour."

What's being said here is basically "cost and price are different; costs are always ultimately labor costs". That ought to put Ricardo's statement that value (stated in terms of costs or disutilities) derives only from labor into the correct perspective. Prices tend toward reflecting costs because where price exceeds cost, production ceases until that condition changes. Thus, the LTV does not say that the price that something sells for is always directly and solely coming from the labor put into it, only that it's costs are.

What is not being said here is that "people only want something as badly as the labor that went into it", or that "value is tied directly to the object and has nothing to do with evaluation by individuals" or that "two people can't value the same thing differently". It is not irreconcilable with STV. As I said in my last post, they are complementary if you understand them (or at least, if you don't start off with the belief that they are incompatible and then look for validation of that hypothesis). The LTV doesn't have to "provide a means for discovering when labor should not be done at all", or "comparing the value of alternative uses for labor." As I said, it is complementary, not exclusive, to a subjective understanding of value. I don't know how I can say "they're compatible" and get an objection like "LTV can't account for X that the STV can". Apply the immortal ethic of ARFCOM: "Get Both."

And I'm going to recommend this to anyone wanting better understanding. Studies in Mutualist Political Economy by Kevin Carson.

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?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Political Classes

I separate society into two classes: The political upper class, and the political lower class. These are, respectively, those who benefit from the state, and those who are harmed by it. This is a nice, simple dichotomy to work with. But it's sorta like the distinctions of the red, pink, white, gray, and black markets. There's different grades that should be distinguished for clarity, rather than simply lumped into "economy" and "counter-economy". So here's a more precise version of my political class theory, divided into three classes:

1. The fuelers
2. The foolers
3. The rulers

The Fuelers are the people that keep the state going, i.e. the host organism. Taxpayers (as opposed to tax-consumers), soldiers, good obedient nationalistic citizens, et cetera.

The Foolers are the apparent political class. That is, the people that get elected, appointed, et cetera. They are the formal state. The congress, the president, the judges, the directors, everything right down to the cops. They have transient power. They are mere interchangable elements of a grander parasite.

The Rulers are the true political upper class. They are the people who have, not transient, but perpetual power. Not through getting elected, but through being able to control those who are, no matter who they are.

Libertarians recognize the dichotomy I gave at the beginning of this post, they see and understand a political upper and lower class, and, seeing themselves in the lower, try to move into and displace the upper. But most libertarians have a shallow view of the situation. Their attention is directed away from the Rulers, toward the Foolers (which is the whole point in having Foolers, to fool people, like most libertarians, and everyone else).

And this is one more area where I find agorism takes a generally-good anarchocapitalist idea and hones it. Agorism advocates displacing the true political upper class. The agorist technique is to profit from statism without partaking in it's violence, by entering the black market (which exists specifically to correct the economic stupidity caused by the state, not to maintain it as does the pink market). The agorist technique is to bribe the police to be just, not to change the law they are sworn to uphold to be just. Rothschild may "care not who makes [the nation's] laws", but his antithesis, the agorist, cares not who enforces them, because in either case, one may change the individuals in apparent power, but cannot change the individuals in true power.

I seriously can't even count how many new insights agorism has brought with it into my head. It's certainly not a logical proof of it's validity, but it's a MUCH more useful idea for me than anarchocapitalism was.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

On Persuasion

This blog post comes from a forum post I made. The OP asks for help with his liberal (read: state socialist) friends. I responded in vast overkill because somebody got me going on something I had lots to say about. The core advice is not specific to liberals at all. It is advice for persuasion, period.


Don't be on the defense. Don't put them on the defense. You are not enemies, you are friends. Assuming you are both on a quest for truth, you are partners in the search for that truth. You help each other figure out what is true and what isn't.

Some people are not looking for truth. Some people are looking to preserve their identity as a liberal. If they value being a liberal and the relationships they would lose if they stopped being a liberal more than they value truth, then they're hopeless in that condition. You have to figure out a way to make truth their first priority. Do not let them lie about how truth is their first priority (the contradiction is obvious, and most strongly indicated in whether their decisions and actions contradict their words). Trap them with it if you have to. Don't be hostile or threatening to their worldview, but point out their hypocrisy as humor that they can laugh at (so they won't be angry at you). If you can align them with truth, and align yourself with truth, then you don't have an enemy, just a friend that doesn't know it yet. Persuasion isn't just about giving people truth, it's about getting them to accept the truth, which requires getting them to want the truth. Do not just appeal to facts, appeal to values.

From this sentence: "its okay to use the government gun when its for the good of the people", it is apparent that they value "the good of the people". If they are being honest in this (i.e. no ulterior motive), then showing them that universal healthcare is detrimental to "the good of the people" will be an effective tactic. But they probably aren't, they probably heard that rationalization for it and regurgitate it like a good liberal, where their true values lie: being a good liberal = being a good person, by the reasoning of many liberals.

It's actually a pretty common mistake for newer libertarians to make to discover how universally true the moral argument is, and then use the moral argument against people who don't share your moral premises. They value morality, in all likelihood. They do not value your moral laws, they value theirs. Arguing from it's immorality by the laws you propose will just make them disagree with your moral laws insofar as they do not already share them. The true basis for the morality of decisions is the results of the decisions. "Good" is what is good for people. This should be obvious because of all the pseudo cost-benefit analysis involved. If you asked them whether or not the costs of universal healthcare, without the benefits, were good or bad, they'd be an idiot to say that nonzero costs with zero benefits is good. The problem is that they believe that the good outweighs the bad. Fundamentally this idea is refuted by the fact that you will never get any more benefit from the government than it costs in the first place. At best it's hypothetically equal, but there's always overhead and bureaucracy and bullshit like spending social security dry, so outputs never exceed inputs, preventing it from being good, the costs always exceed the benefits. Bureaucrats and statists ALWAYS emphasize and overstate the benefits and ALWAYS downplay or underestimate the costs, using highly advanced deception tools developed by intellectuals recieving state subsidies or grants.

In cases where there's a negative externality, like aggression, the good of the aggressing individual is threatened by the retaliation of the victim who suffered loss. That's a good rule of thumb to use a lot of the time, if somebody wants to retaliate against you because of what you did to them, you probably costed them something. In the case of the state, there is no retaliation of the victim against the state, almost ever, so it can appear intuitively moral if it is believed that the act of aggression served the good of someone else. The moral costs appear to be virtually zero, and the benefits appear to be nonzero, so obviously universal healthcare should be good! The hard part is getting them to realize the unseen costs.

The issue with identity-value like wanting to be a good liberal is that if you bring up the costs, they subconsiously see a threat to their identity, and they'll say something according to their identity that makes them feel like a good liberal and that superficially appears to refute what you said, like "yeah, you should go to jail for not paying taxes". But that obviously just moves the problem back a little bit, because then you've got to repeat the process for the costs of paying taxes without the benefits, to get them to admit that there certainly ARE costs, because once they've acknowledged the costs they are forced to re-evaluate the costs and benefits. If they decide the costs of taxation outweigh the benefits, good going! If they don't, they're stupid, and they'll probably bring up more "i'm a good liberal" rhetoric or "you're a bad libertarian" rhetoric (they think they are good not only because they are what they are, but because they are not what they are not, and because their enemies are who their enemies are), and usually I'd get something absolutely irrelevant like "but who will build the roads?" or "best country in the world you should be grateful" or similar stupid shit, and if you can't get them back on topic after they try to do that, they're suffering from severe cognitive dissonance and you need to let them ferment and cool off because they'll probably be angry because you made them scared because you threatened their identity as a good liberal but they won't admit that to themselves.

This is why I prefer to either argue from the first principles and original facts, or to convince them that their first priority should be truth, depending on the the circumstances. If you don't have them wanting truth they won't care about facts and principles so you should really go for that first. I can't overstress it enough. People really do let their desired truth overrule the real truth. This is the number one enemy of reason and it's pretty much my definition of faith.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

It Doesn't Just Happen

Agorism predicts that, as the agora grows, DROs and PAs will come about and eventually suppress the state. Counter-economics, until these form, is a means of inordinately profiting and a result of smashing the state in your head, but it itself doesn't further the revolution except to grow the counter-economy a tiny bit so that DROs and PAs will form. I think agorists are working it a bit backwards here. DROs and PAs haven't formed and overthrown the state in Burma (although it might be because the black market isn't an "agora", isn't conscious of agorism). A 100% counter-economic market is agorism, but a 50% counter-economic market is still statism, and a 0% is still statism. What would 99% be? 90%? 80%?

Instead of trying to grow the agora over generations or so, why not work on adapting a DRO and PA to operate in much lower-density agoras? If a way of providing the service in a 100% counter-economic market is inevitable, and 99% would be extremely easy, at some point it becomes moderately hard, unless you adapt your model specifically to work in an extremely-low density agora. There's no law of physics that says that at some certain point it becomes impossible to do. It'd be a hell of a task, but the payoff!

FSK discusses tax resister insurance. This is the sort of thing agorists should be really focused on in terms of counter-economic behavior. Growing the counter-economy is certainly conductive to the agorist goals and greatly preferred over the white market, but a "deep black market" business, not just acting in violation of the state's decrees, but in direct contravention to it, and making a profit doing it, that's the kind of thing that has massive potential to liberate society very quickly. Let's not wait around saying "Well we can't really do anything but stay off the books and out of jail until the agora develops and grows to [undefined point of precipitation of the agora]", let's get our asses to work figuring out how we can form DROs and PAs now, not worry about whether we can or not. Worst case scenario, if we can't make it work here and now, the techniques developed will still help it come into being sooner than it would otherwise. The failures would be learned from, the successes would be remembered.

What do we need, exactly, to get from here to there? Let's build it. We already know it'll happen, in the fullness of time. But it doesn't just happen. People make it happen. People like us.

"Man will not fly for fifty years." -Wilbur Wright, 1901