Free Markets are libertarian but libertarianism is not the Free Markets

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Just thought I’d throw this out there since this idea, that the only way to have libertarianism is to have a free market economy, keeps popping up from people coming from the right. It’s even more annoying when the same people also insist that the only way to have free markets is in a propertarian system where hierarchies of landlords and bosses wouldn’t affect the “libertarianism” of the society at all. Oh no.

Yes, a truly free market is a libertarian concept as it is based on the condition that people freely trade with each other, but then you still have to define what a truly free market is. Not all markets are free and the existence of a market is not enough or even necessary for liberty. A free society might choose voluntarily to avoid money and markets if the individuals within it so wish thankyouverymuch.

This confusion imho arises from the common misconceptions of people on the right about “human nature” and “natural human societies.” Specifically there is the impression that humans societies will naturally default to a market economy and thus some kind of coercion will be necessary to stop people from “freely trading with each other.” From this assumption spring all the automatic accusations against libertarian socialists of being “statists”, “authoritarians” etc which when directed against Anarchists can be just a tad annoying.

In fact, this argument is ridiculously common. From my experience, it’s so common that in discussions you’ll have with a free market proponent (anarchist or minarchist) where you mention that your idea of a future society will not include free markets, there a very high probability that their next response will be something like this:

How are you going to stop people from trading then? Are you going to forbit it forcefully? Will you use your “people’s army?”. Authoritarian! Statist!

Seriously people. We don’t care if you trade to your heart’s content in your own free societies, but just because we can visualise one where people have decided not to subject themselves to social darwinism does not automatically make it less libertarian. Markets will not be even explicitly forbidden in a communist society in the first place, people within it will be free to trade just as well, make up their own paper currency or whatever other such nonsense. We simply expect that nobody will wish to do so as it will be wholly unnecessary and alienating for the participants.

The only thing LibSocs would ever actively oppose is attempts to re-introduce hierarchies once more into human existence. It is not oppressive to oppose all oppression.

So can you please cut it out already with the misguided accusations? I’d be really appreciated and I can guarantee it will help your dialogue with us be constructive rather than devolving into a flamewar.

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23 thoughts on “Free Markets are libertarian but libertarianism is not the Free Markets

  1. during the very brief episode of anarchism in Spain in the 1930s, peasant farmers who did want want to take part in collectives were simply given land and told, "You're on your own." I think that that's fair enough.

    Crucially, however, the anarcho-capitalists miss out is that their vision of free market capitalism depends on generalised commodity production and wage-labour, that is, social production but private appropriation. In fact, the two go together, as without a class of wage-earners there is no-one to produce and buy the commodities. It is the universality of commodity production that gives rise to the modern forms of production for sale, money, and so on (that is not to say that these did not exist in a more primitive form in earlier epochs).

    Commodity production presupposes a certain division of labour. If this is overcome, then one wonders how one could behave like a capitalist (employing others, paying them wages and selling the commodities they produce for a profit) if the universal means of doing so are not there. That is, one could pay someone wages, but the would have no means to spend it other than on the things they have produced – and they would quickly see that they cannot buy it all back!

    In the final analysis, for generalised commodity production and free trade to happen, wage-labour had to be imposed through force. This meant an era of enclosures, clearances, forced evictions, violence, war and discipline – the "secret" of primitive accumulation.

  2. The accusation that ancap's are unaware of the interconnectedness of commodity production and the division of labor is unfounded. What is also unfounded is the proposition that division of labor must be introduced by force and that wage-labor is somehow something "to be overcome". On the contrary the division of labor that permits commodity production is optimal for many (not few) in relation to other historical alternatives and has arisen naturally without coercion.

    So once you get over the fact that markets can and have in many cases arisen without force there remains the question of whether your LibSoc vision supposes only that people will voluntarily choose to abandon this capitalistic division of labor (a hypothesis which can be tested at the same time as the AnCap or similar hypotheses) or whether it retains for it's proponents the prerogative to judge which divisions of labor are "hierarchies" to be overthrown by unprovoked force. So if the "misguided accusations" are to be stopped the LibSoc's must clarify in detail what they propose. Because the two alternative visions can have terribly different meanings (with the emphasis on "terribly").

    1. What is also unfounded is the proposition that division of labor must be introduced by force

      I think the Parker is talking about the division of labour between capitalist and worker, not the division of tasks between workers in production. For the sake of simplicity let's call "Division of labour" when we're talking about some people doing the productive work and some people overseeing and managing the profits and "Division of tasks" when we're talking about people separating the productive actions so that one person specializes in one part of the production process instead of the whole of it.

      In this way, it is in fact true that the Division of labour had to be introduced by force, as the separation between worker and capitalist was in fact historically introduced via force (and maintained by force of the state)

      1. yes, I deliberately wrote "a certain division of labour", not just any old division of labour. Of course, in pre-capitalist societies there was a division of labour, as there would be in any complex society.

    2. So once you get over the fact that markets can and have in many cases arisen without force there remains the question of whether your LibSoc vision supposes only that people will voluntarily choose to abandon this capitalistic division of labor

      That private property and by extension the markets built around it naturally evolved is a point of contention as there was a lot of violence required to smash communal living and create expropriate the land. That goes as far back as Ancient Greece and Rome and the reasons for the creation of the initial states.

      But lets for the sake of convenience accept that Merchantilism did evolve without violence. That still does not mean a capitalist division of labour which did in fact require extensive force. Your mistake then is that you're conflating Merchantilism (a method of distribution) with Capitalism (a method of production).

      1. Anarcho-capitalists have to deny the historical record when it comes to the use of force and the state because otherwise a central part of their ideology collapses.

      2. I am interested in references on the history of communal living being smash. Please provide titles or links of books or papers on the topic.

        1. Check the English enclosure movement and the destruction of the free cities of the 11th-14th century. Check Kropotkin's "Mutual Aid" and Engels' "The Origins of Family and the State" for some sourced historical and anthropological information.

    3. So if the "misguided accusations" are to be stopped the LibSoc's must clarify in detail what they propose.

      I'm still not certain exactly what you need clarification with. LibSocs do in fact suggest that people will voluntarily choose to abandon the capitalist division of labour and this will lead to a revolution naturally. If that doesn't happen, the obviously we will remain within the current system.

      1. Yeah, people will either consciously choose to move beyond capitalism or they won't. I don;t see what the problem is, tbh.

    4. "The accusation that ancap's are unaware of the interconnectedness of commodity production and the division of labor is unfounded."

      To be clear, the subject under discussion is the continuance of capitalist forms of trade under a theoretical libertarian socialist/anarchist society. My point is that capitalist production is necessarily generalised commodity production and _wage-labour_ so that any attempt to resurrect this will run into a form of social "syntax error".

  3. "An"caps think in very rigid dichotomies. Apparently the only way to oppose something is to use coercion– if you're not going to use force to stop it, that means you're perfectly okay with it!

    Just point out that they wouldn't use coercion to stop paper money taking place in their capitalistic markets.

    I even had this fellow say that Kropotkin was an anarcho-capitalist, as long as he didn't use coercion to "force" an-com on everyone.

    1. Yeah, part of the problem is that they take private property rights as a given and can't even consider a society implementing different ownership rights.

  4. one of the “problems” with “anarcho-capitalists” is that it was philosophized by economists/moral philosophers. So at the same time that you get a moral philosophy of libertarianism, you get a bias against socialism, which ancaps define as centralized control of the means of production. there problem with this is that it causes confusion among various libertarians and anarchists and they bitch at eachother as a result.

    I think the anarcho-comunism/syndicalism etc would be a miserable failure because communism fails. I think that anarcho-capitalism may fail to provide strong enough social bonds to function harmoniously. Personally, i think that no extreme is appropriate. Individualistic competition and collectivist human relationships are both legitimate.

    So long as we actually an anarchist and not someone who thinks of the State as a means to the end of the State (Marxists, etc), we should all get along to get rid of the State together. Anarchists and libertarians should stop bitching at eachother and direct all their efforts at the State.

  5. Speaking strictly as an observer for a moment; I've been around for a while now and seen a lot of 'Ansoc v Ancap' debates. In the past, it all got old, fast simply because it was always the same old crap followed by invective from both sides. I've been noticing that this latest round, which has been driven by a lot of former AnCaps, see's the 'AnSoc' side significantly more informed than the 'AnCap' about the other's position. The AnCaps are often using the same rhetoric to attack a new position. There's is significantly less invective this time around.

    Going back to my old bias, excellent post. All those arguments where (especially with some of the more vulgar AnCaps) the libertarian socialist position is badly characterised in order to prove, conclusively that the particular AnCap position is superior really, really piss me off.=

    1. This is really what tickles me most to tell you the truth. While LibSocs (at least from my experience) take the time to understand the AnCap arguments in order to counter them, the AnCaps almost always have no idea of what the LibSocs are talking about and simply base it all on equivocations of "Socialism" and strawmen. They don't know the difference between PP and Possession, the historical meaning of 'Anarchism' and 'Libertarianism' etc.

      It really gets so tiring after a while to explain the same things over and over, which is incidentally why I write so much stuff for clarification in this blog. That way when such an misguided argument is posted I can simply redirect them to my article about it.

      Fortunately the Left Libertarians like R.Long, are informed enough to avoid egregious strawmen so a discussion is possible to not devolve into frustrated flamewars. I guess this is the reason they are closer to the left actually since I'm guessing the Libertarian Socialist pull played a role 🙂

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