It's not the end that's important but how we get there.

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I’ve spend a hefty chunk of the last 3 days arguing with various strands of market anarchists1 where the discussion mainly centered around the form and limitations of the future society.

This is a main trend I’ve noticed from those Anarchists and “Anarchists” who espouse mainly the Austrian analysis of economics; the trend to emphasise a future possible reality and how in the ideal situation the free market would work in the best possible manner. However, in an idealized society, any system can work. Anyone can in their head imagine all the necessary factors that will have to exist in order to make the system run.

The problem however is that reality never conforms to the ideal. Any perfect system imagined in our head will always fall far shorter than practice and this is not because the person thinking about it is stupid, but simply due the sheer immensity of factors one must account for. One will always consider the problems he is most familiar with and their solutions, but for every situation one resolves, there’s a 100 we haven’t thought of and another 100 we can’t even consider because they will only appear in the future.

These kind of ideal systems are utopias. They work only because they are a shortened version of reality, only detailed to the extend that the original thinker and his followers have thought about potential problems and their solutions.

And the reasons why Utopias fail, is because the thinkers have wasted all their time imagining how the end result might be, and very little to plan how to get there. But the second part is the only thing that matters. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the particulars of any future society are almost not important at all. It’s the base that’s important. The main idea that permeates the future society that we want to achieve is enough to be painted in rough colours, and let the future people add the details

To speak for myself, I suggest egalitarianism. A future society where people will be equal in power. I maintain that as long as equality in power exists, coercion (active and passive) will be impossible and as a result true freedom will flourish. This a broad stroke, but it’s enough. And the benefit of such broad strokes is that it allows people to concentrate on getting the baseline right, rather than bickering over the details. It also directs the energy to the part that is most important. Getting there.

However, market anarchists seem to miss 2 important points: The difficulty of using free market tactics to get rid of distortions of power and the fact that the means strongly colour the ends.

The first part is almost obvious from today’s society. In a free market where (gross) inequality exist, the power keeps flowing towards the powerful. This happens because money is power, and in any market exchange between unequal individuals will benefit the strongest over the weakest. This allows the strongest to use all means at their disposal in order to protect their position, and one of those means is the state.

As such, it is silly to expect these people, the ruling class, to embrace the Free Market, to voluntary reduce the protectionism they enjoy and the like. If they start to do so, then it can only be because it is to their benefit. But it is equally silly to expect free market tactics to work immediately post-revolution. A revolutionary society will not immediately arrive at the end of the road, in fact the biggest challenge will only be starting. That path will be the most crucial, with counter-revolutionaries waiting for a chance to return to the old system, relics of the previous society standing which will need to be dismantled and many people who still think by the old values.

To attempt and go directly to a free market economy at this point would be to ignore the fact that the free markets exarberate inequality.

Which leads us to the second problem. Mainly that the path ones takes is what defines the end one will have. If we have a revolution, the methods by which it will happen will define the immediate post-revolutionary organizations we will have. And those organizational methods will define how the society will slowly evolve to its newer form.

To give you an example, if a revolution happens due to syndicalist action (say larger and larger strikes and takeovers) then these unions will be the classic form around which a society will condense as the heat of action cools down.  People will then continue working with the organizational form which has proven successful to them, forming federations and confederations of syndics and so on. Thus, they will have small incentive to switch to a system they are not familiar with.

This poses a tricky problem for those who envision a different kind of ideal society. Taking market anarchism again, if we accept that free market tactics and rhetoric cannot take down the current system (because they will promote the current distribution of power), then this means that market anarchists will have to support another type of organization that has a chance of revolt. But once this happens, people will still need to deal and extinguish relics of the previous system, on which a free market cannot stand (as it needs an idea society remember?).

So at which point will these piggy-backing market anarchists get to put their system into action? If they wait until the system solidifies in an anarchist form, it will be already too late. The system will be communist, syndicalist or whatever. There will be no further reason for reform. If they try to take over soon after the revolution, then the lingering inequalities and mentality will take hold and possibly defeat the whole thing.

The only chance then left for idealists, is to somehow prove that they have some means of provoking an anarchist revolution in the first place which will then be able to progress towards the perfect free market. Or to expect that a future non-market society will be so unstable that it will voluntarily cry out for the free market. To tell the truth, the later does not really worry me, as long as market anarchist support a social revolution now. And the former has not yet, provided any convincing (to me) methodology.

For those idealists of the free market though, who do not see any path towards it; to stick to the ideology is simply useless. If you can’t figure out how to achieve it (and no, I do not consider begging the government to be a viable tactic) then you might as well not waste your time thinking about it. If you think you can only get there once the socialists have created an egalitarian society, then start struggling for that and don’t waste our time about the Free Market.

And if you are of those few that think there is a way through free market tactics, then you’d better have a damn good excuse on why these tactics can work, even though the free market theory is only valid for a very particular society in the first place.

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  1. I will use this term to define those who support a stateless society where usury (wage-labour, rent & interest) is possible and a free market handles distribution []
  • http://www.anarchyalive.com Uri

    Very well argued. I think the analysis of power is central to any anarchist politics, and shows up market anarchism for the misinformed blueprint it is. No anarchist would force people not to use a market – but capitalism (class society, permanent inequalities of economic power) could survive an hour without the state. Of course the workers would take over the fields, factories and offices if there was no police to prevent them from doing it. To "get there" – if we ever do – would mean that most people have a material interest to substitute capitalism for stateless communism, and that the ideological victory over the armed forces has been won.

  • http://williamgillis.blogspot.com/ William

    Let's not start another thread. Our disagreements in perception of fact empirical data and their intercausalities are obvious legion, and our methodologies at almost right angles (although obviously not in the way you portray them). Hashing out and explaining you through our every point of contention in this all-on manner would take months. There are take downs of every argument you make or cite as this sort of nonsense has been around for a while. I just want to briefly restate that we do not live in a free market, we live in capitalism. Very distinct concepts and while you may write the latter off as utopian or a thought experiment, that doesn't invalidate the conceptual separation. Sliding them together is a regrettable argumentation tactic.

    I know better folks than I have pointed out your either historical ignorance or misrepresentations, but since you invoke anarcho-syndicalist federations as a means->ends connection I thought it'd be worth pointing out that the anarchists in the FAI and at the heart of the Spanish Revolution were for the most part differentiated from their syndicalist comrades by their hostility to using the federations as the basis for a new society. (Which they rightly suspected would have all the bureaucratic faults and reconstitutions of power that they ended up demonstrating.) They wanted to use the federations as a tool to be torn down and discarded, NOT as the basis for a new society. While I agree that in practice folks demonstrate a reflexive conservative element in the (non)development/evolution of social systems, this is something I think that we should quite obviously be striving to overcome. There's a quite common tendency these days within the left-liberal through anarchist activista scene to claim anarchism as a process rather than a goal, react violently to the conceptual modeling of potential systems and write off any projected future obstacles as something that we'll just trial and error our way through when they arrive. This is simply saddening.

    Finally, a clarification, we all agree that rent — applied to such scales and accumulative effect as you envision — is a bad thing. The disagreement is on means of inhibiting such results. Simply universally removing rent as a possibility seems to imply far more private force than I could ever find reconcilable. I'm not much of one for edicts or enforced laws — again, NOT an anarcho-capitalist. But as the one championing process here I think it's rather incumbent upon you to elaborate on just how you would go about outlawing rent, especially in those fringe conditions both parties participate in outside the purview of the rest of a society. There are incredibly vague regions as yet unexplored in terms of what constitutes abandonment. I've elaborated on a ton of examples within this region. Simply saying that communities will hash out and enforce the particulars seems either (in the latter) authoritarian … or (in the former) a genuinely market solution. I remain convinced that individuals will find fringe situations wherein rent will serve both their desires best, and the policing of such agreements by external forces is horrifying to me. The issue is not vast unused tracts of land or empty houses protected by cops, but the spare room in the house I built or my right to ask for recompense for the psychological worry of loaning out my car to gutter punks. If the solutions to the accumulation of wealth through rent-seeking are strategies or methods to be found in voluntary association, then that's a market based solution.

    • http://williamgillis.blogspot.com/ William

      should read "write off the FORMER" capitalism is anything but utopian or, alas, a thought experiment.

    • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

      Very distinct concepts and while you may write the latter off as utopian or a thought experiment, that doesn't invalidate the conceptual separation.

      I do not see why you think I tried to invalidate the conceptual separation. In fact I say that there's no proof to claim that a free market can work and any axiomatic proof is useless.

      So no, I'm not trying to equivocate or distort your concept. I'm calling it out as it is.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

      There's a quite common tendency these days within the left-liberal through anarchist activista scene to claim anarchism as a process rather than a goal, react violently to the conceptual modeling of potential systems and write off any projected future obstacles as something that we'll just trial and error our way through when they arrive. This is simply saddening.

      RE: historical opposition to federations in the Span. Rev: The examples I brought were just that, examples. I was not attempting to show that they were the correct or only way. That is a discussion for another day.

      As to your quote above, I would actually agree much more with the "anarchist activista" scene that anarchism is a process. By trying to conceptualize and thin of potential utopias one is simply wasting his time. This was actually the point of the article above and to bring that up as a counter argument, while not opposing any of the arguments for my position that I posted above is lazy to say the least.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

      But as the one championing process here I think it's rather incumbent upon you to elaborate on just how you would go about outlawing rent, especially in those fringe conditions both parties participate in outside the purview of the rest of a society.

      It's weird that you ask me that when we had a 170-reply discussion under the topic I was discussing exactly that! The way I will suggest to abolish rent is to make it structurally impossible. And you do that by having a society which agrees on Possessive ownership. As such, I do not propose coercive force to prevent rent, only coercive force to prevent private property claims, like I would propose coercive force to prevent slavery and any other tactic which would lead to authority and inequality.

      You will undoubtedly claim, as you did before, that rewarding your friends who let you borrow stuff with gifts is "rent". But if with this you will be content, then I have no objection to this kind of "rent" as it is not only compatible with egalitarianism but seems to be part of human psychology (to want to reciprocate to those who helped you).

      but the spare room in the house I built or my right to ask for recompense for the psychological worry of loaning out my car to gutter punk

      No sorry, I do not buy this excuse. Not only do you assume that there will be "gutter punks" in an egalitarian society, but you assume that someone will force you to lend out your possessions. This makes no sense.

      • http://williamgillis.blogspot.com/ William

        Lordy, once again the mind boggles at the staggering and seemingly infinite plethora of points and critiques to be made against you. I simply do not have time.

        > "The way I will suggest to abolish rent is to make it structurally impossible. And you do that by having a society which agrees on Possessive ownership. As such, I do not propose coercive force to prevent rent, only coercive force to prevent private property claims,"

        Seriously? This is not an answer by any stretch of the imagination. It just restates the question. How exactly, in your hypothetical model of society, would people (vigilante individuals? regionally and democratically overseen police forces?) find and identify these claims to private property? Who gets to determine when a motel becomes an apartment complex? Who gets to determine when pre-established voluntary agreements between me and my friend regarding recompense for such loans becomes unacceptable?

        "Structurally impossible" my ass. That's not structurally anything. That's simply laying down a law. I've touched upon a variety of the ways possible for a free market to structurally *impede* the statistically or proportionally relevant accumulation of wealth through rent-seeking. If you think the fringes of property/possession titles would be heavily influenced through diffuse dynamic issues means of reputation, trust, association and the like, then you're ultimately not stating anything substantively different than free market advocates. You're just being aggressively prescriptive about it.

        The issue is the boundaries. You say it's a distinction within the realm of intention, never mind how the loose psychological and neurological territory, who gets to decide the intention of others? If one man occasionally rents out his guest bedroom and it's currently unoccupied does that give me the right to just forcibly move in? Please. That you seem obsessed with pouring over the minutia of these examples and addressing them from some high and mighty, magically objective "common sense" shows a real incapacity to see or address the spectrum of possibilities they open up.

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

          How exactly, in your hypothetical model of society, would people (vigilante individuals? regionally and democratically overseen police forces?) find and identify these claims to private property?

          *Sigh* which is why you totally miss why the progress towards anarchy is more important than the end result. For my hypothetical society to even come into existence, people will have to be used to treat inequality as a problem. They will have to be used to seeing authority (wether of the elected officials, the landlord or the boss) as vile. They will have to be used to naturally oppose tactics and concepts that would lead to inequality and authority, much in the same way that (some? most?) people now naturally oppose slavery and support freedom of speech.

          Once that is the case, as I pointed in Distinctions of Ownership, people would find as repulsive to exchange money or wealth for a temporary loan, as friends do. As such, the abolition of usury will have been internalized by most humans, much like respect to authority has been internalized now.

          And the process by which we reach this result, is the most important, as it is what will train people to respect and promote equality and by extension individualism. The way by which we will discard capitalism and build up the future society will make such concepts as rent ridiculous to even contemplate.

          It becomes structurally impossible.

  • http://williamgillis.blogspot.com/ William

    (The idea behind Agorism is that free market theory IS relevant to — although given the creeping context not absolutely descriptive of — very specific sections of society and spheres of public life. Places where there are tradable goods, but not coercion. It's an "in the shell of the old" argument. Free market theory giving explanations of how things can progress, and evolve to become better and better, but also taking into consideration some initial conditions.)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/db0 db0

      How can you claim that free market theory can work in some places where there is no coercion. It's like assuming that the rest of society with all it's coercive apparati can somehow be ignored in these little bubbles of true free trade. I do not see this. I do not see how any kind of black market within the current society will avoid the same problem that prevent the free market theory of taking hold.

      I do not see how the free market theory can give explanations on how things can progress, when the free market theory can only work in a particular system. Any suggestions the free market theory thus makes, will fail or be corrupted because the system will not support them.

  • http://dbzer0.com db0

    Very distinct concepts and while you may write the latter off as utopian or a thought experiment, that doesn't invalidate the conceptual separation.

    I do not see why you think I tried to invalidate the conceptual separation. In fact I say that there's no proof to claim that a free market can work and any axiomatic proof is useless.

    So no, I'm not trying to equivocate or distort your concept. I'm calling it out as it is.

  • SocialPrinciple

    I'm with you that anarchy is a process and method–defined roughly as a relationship of equal power. I'm not sure that market anarchists–or at least the left-libertarian market anarchists–are as bad on this question as you seem to think.

    See, for instance (both by Roderick Long):
    Equality: the Unknown Ideal: http://mises.org/story/804
    (for the record, I see the kind of possessive ownership standards you've been talking about as a way to reconcile socioeconomic equality with equality of authority)

    Why We Fight (the Power): http://aaeblog.com/2009/04/26/why-we-fight-the-po

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