Why are you a Market Anarchist?

colourful spices in a french market
Image by GavinBell via Flickr

In recent posts I’ve been arguing a lot with various strands of Free Market Anarchists on the benefits of using such a free market approach and on trusting in them to achieve a better result for the society. The more I discuss, the more it dawns to me that there is a fundamental distinction between them and it basically relates to the reasons why one embraced Free Market Anarchy as a social theory.

The way I see it, there are two different reasons why one can end up being a Market Anarchist.

  1. Free Markets are the best way to achieve liberty.
  2. Liberty is the Free Markets.

Proponents of the first type are generally the ones who are far more interested in achieving the most personal liberty rather than in the specific system they will use to do so. This is the utilitarian perspective which considers that the best result for humanity as a whole is by maximizing each person’s individual liberty and are under the belief that free markets facilitate exactly that. I generally have no problem with this type of Market Anarchist as sooner or later they will come to the conclusion that the best way to maximize individual liberty is by achieving egalitarianism as well and thus turn socialist. This seems to be the way most Mutualists I’ve spoken with think of it at least.

In short, for the first type, Liberty and by necessary extension Equality are the most important part, the end goal. The Free Markets are merely the best way they believe we have to achieve this result. Such a perspective is open minded. Given enough arguments and solid criticism showing that the free markets cannot, in fact, achieve this goal, that person will discard this belief and embrace something that can. That is not to say that all will, but the fact that they are open about it is what will facilitate dialogue and constructive discussion.

It is the second path to Free Market Anarchism that I find flawed.

The latter type are nominally for liberty as well but they have a very distorted view of it. One seems to start again from questing for the best way to achieve liberty but then somehow is quickly immersed in Free Market rhetoric from the likes of the Austrian school of Economics. Using theoretical proofs of “working (propertarian) free markets” based on pure logic and unrealistic assumptions, the concept of liberty is conflated with the concept of propertarian free markets. It becomes dogma.

The original question of “what maximizes liberty?” is forgotten. All arguing commences from the position “Libertarianism is the Free Markets” which ends up misrepresenting the position of anyone who argues against this as authoritarian and easily devolves into flamewars. Even worse, when the logical consequences of such a perspective are pointed out as non-libertarian, an extreme rationalization kicks in to turn black into white. “It’s libertarian as long as it’s voluntary“, “It’s libertarian if no fraud or violence is involved.” etc etc. It is through such a distortion that the clear, authoritarian nature of a hierarchical relationship such as the one between boss and wage-worker can be rationalized away as “libertarian”, even though the worker maintains no freedom while working. It is through such a distortion that voluntary slavery can be defended as “libertarian.”

If the original question is brought up again, if the original economic assumptions are challenged, I very often receive a fallacious responses of a religious fervor. The most common being an argument from authority, most usually the authority of the Austrian school of economics naturally. When that fails, the most common fallback arguments I see is either the abstraction of the free market to the irrelevant or the trounce card of arguing for private property rights (and by extension Free markets to control distribution) via the Natural Law concept.

So the main difference between these two paths to Market Anarchism can be separated between Utilitarian and Ideological perspective. The Utilitarian perspective starts from the trying to achieve a utilitarian result, discovers that maximizing liberty is a necessary part of it and considers that free market anarchism is the best way to achieve this. The ideological perspective on the other hand starts from various asserted axioms, eg “Private Property rights are an objective reality”,  “The Non-Aggression principle leads to greater liberty”, “Free Markets are Pareto Efficient” etc and finds that Free Market Anti-Statism is the ideology that brings them all together in one package.

Thus, whatever the practical result of such a Free Market Anti-Statism might be is irrelevant as it has already been defined to be “Libertarian.” And it is this exact reason why I often find it so frustrating to discuss with (or even read) the latter type of Market Anarchist, as something that is obviously authoritarian or exploitative in nature is ignored at best (“It can only happen via the state”) or defended at worst (Slave Contracts).

But there is one particular argument I hear from the ideological market anarchist. When I point to a very possible authoritarian result of propertarian markets, such as sexual harassment in the workplace, crypto-feudalism or simply widespread wage-slavery, a common response (right after defending it as “voluntary”) is to claim “Oh that would probably never happen without the state anyway”. But then I have to ask: Why do you care about that? Whether that comes to be or not should not matter at all as long as it is the result of the “free market” should it?

In these market anarchists I see a strained dualism, where that person really wants to have a generally libertarian society, where hierarchy and authority are minimal if not abolished but at the other hand, just cannot bring themselves to consider discarding the propertarian free markets concept as all. It manifests itself in expressions such as “Certainly the worker has to sacrifice his liberty as a wage-slave and certainly sweatshop wage-slavery is not a good result but in a truly free market, the increased competition would give all workers such a competitive advantage that sweatshops could never exist and most people would be able to be self-employed if they really wanted to.”

If you would not like to see widespread wage-slavery, propertarian feudalism, hierarchy from 3rd institutions etc then why do you not start from this position in the first place? Why don’t you start by considering a socioeconomic system which would make such possibilities systematically impossible. Perhaps this will be possible via the free markets. Perhaps you’ll have to abolish private property. Perhaps you’ll have to move away from the markets altogether. But as long as your basic results are achieved, you shouldn’t care anyway, right?

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  • http://georgedonnelly.com George Donnelly

    How about some new, concrete examples for #2. I think the sexual harassment example has been flogged into atoms.

    Define exploitation, please.

    "If you would not like to see widespread wage-slavery, propertarian feudalism, hierarchy from 3rd institutions etc then why do you not start from this position in the first place?"

    Because I (for one) start from first principles and work up, not the other way around (?).

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

      How about some new, concrete examples for #2. I think the sexual harassment example has been flogged into atoms.

      How do you mean? Nobody has made a concise refutation against my post on it yet. Also I don't think more examples are needed as this is not the point of this post.

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

      Because I (for one) start from first principles and work up, not the other way around (?).

      Why?

      Why do you have to start from first principles if you simply wish to end up without all these things? Why not start from the proposition "I want to end 1, 2 and 3" and figure out what will stop them, instead of starting from some arbitrary "first principles"?

      • http://georgedonnelly.com George Donnelly

        They're not arbitrary.

        If you can't give concrete, specific examples I can't understand it as well as I would like and an opportunity to influence is lost. Your call of course but be aware of the consequences.

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

          They're not arbitrary.

          Ok then. What do they follow from?

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

          If you can't give concrete, specific examples I can't understand it as well as I would like

          What kind of examples do you want? Things that you would not like to have in your future society? I can only offer theoretical examples, not concrete ones since we're talking about a theoretical scenario in the first place. One such example would be the aforementioned sexual harassment case which I think is a very strong argument that you don't get to avoid just because it's been discussed in the past. Another one would be sweatshop wage-slavery (I choose the sweatshop only to give you a stronger impression as for me all forms of wage-slavery are condemnable).

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

        The proposition that one wants "to end 1, 2 and 3" should follow from a principle, else its just a subjective whim. If I may speak for George (and he may correct me if I am mistaken), he does not like to see such things as widespread wage-slavery, propertarian feudalism, hierarchy etc., because of the principles he holds. Viz., the principled belief in "freedom" for example, leads George to abhor ideas antithetical to freedom.

        • http://georgedonnelly.com George Donnelly

          Thanks, that's right on. Especially the part about subjective whim.

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

          should follow from a principle, else its just a subjective whim.

          Then the principle itself is a subjective whim. You cannot avoid the subjective part no matter how hard you try unless you assert an unprovable proposition such as Natural Law or a deity.

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

          Viz., the principled belief in "freedom" for example, leads George to abhor ideas antithetical to freedom.

          Why does one have a principled belief in freedom then? One should know as much why they propose maximizing freedom as good as much as if they propose anything following from it. By starting from the point of "freedom is good" you're simply avoiding looking at the point of "why is freedom good?" If one did so, they would discover that it is good for its utilitarian results, something which would of course lead to further questioning.

  • Mark C.

    What might these "first principles" be?

  • http://georgedonnelly.com George Donnelly

    If you don't think any new examples are needed, that's your prerogative but it's an influence fail and this thread of the discussion ends.

    My first principles start from the fact that I am alive and have choices, I can choose to live or die. If I choose the former, I must act to sustain my life. That requires that I think, make decisions and act on them. Aggression interferes with this process. Therefore aggression is evil. This is my basic chain of reasoning which I'm not ashamed to admit I "lifted" from Rand. Of course I think I had this inside me already before I read Rand, I just wasn't able to articulate it as well as she did.

    I don't articulate much on this topic, so it does not come out eloquently, fluently or possibly even in a complete way.

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

      If you don't think any new examples are needed, that's your prerogative but it's an influence fail and this thread of the discussion ends.

      o.0 I've already gave you one example and asked you for clarification on what you're asking

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

      My first principles start from the fact that I am alive and have choices, I can choose to live or die. If I choose the former, I must act to sustain my life.

      It also means that you must be allowed to achieve your basic needs: Food, Shelter and Friendship. If you act to live but those options are withheld from you until you submit your liberty don't you find that you are being forced into an unfair situation? As the quote goes

      If you need to live ask for work. If they give you no work, then ask for bread. If they give you neither work nor bread, then take bread.

      Perhaps this of my posts might be of interest to you on this subject

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

    This is good: If you would not like to see widespread wage-slavery, propertarian feudalism, hierarchy from 3rd institutions etc then why do you not start from this position in the first place?

    +1

  • Anon73

    I can't speak for Walter Block, but I can explain why there is a tendency for reliance on "first principles". It stems from the intuition about the world that some moral facts are absolute, i.e. the deontological assumption that something is right or wrong regardless of the good consequences that it might achieve. An elementary example would something like torture or slavery; even if there were strong utilitarian reasons to think a given instance of torture or slavery would achieve good, that doesn't make it right, period. You don't explicitly say it in your post but it sounds like you are a utilitarian; however I don't believe all anarchists are utilitarians (Lysander Spooner was not) and not all market anarchists are natural-law types (David Friedman is not).

    Personally, I do think utilitarian concerns play some role in helping us think about the world, but they aren't absolute. If Walter Block's sytem did result in widespread "sexual harassment" then he should rethink his views. But if the harassment wasn't systematic, wasn't widespread, then it's hard to see how it would be a significant challenge. Unfortunately I doubt either Block's sytem or your system will become common in the near future since it's states as far as the eye can see. :-/

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

      even if there were strong utilitarian reasons to think a given instance of torture or slavery would achieve good, that doesn't make it right, period

      It really depends on what kind of utilitarianism one proposes (there are many types). I am more closer to desire happiness and desire utilitarianism than I am to act utilitarianism so in this example I would also take into account the desires that would cause people to consider that torture would be "good" and find the whole result bad. But this is a discussion for another time. Needless to say however that I reject objective moral rights as something that stubs moral thinking by assuming that some stuff are good or bad because this or that guy says so or because my parents and general society around me says so.

      But if the harassment wasn't systematic, wasn't widespread, then it's hard to see how it would be a significant challenge.

      Why is the harassment and exploitation of a few not important? Inadvertedly you're making an act utilitarian argument here by saying that there is no problem with the few suffering if the many prosper.

      • Anon73

        The question is not if harassment or exploitation of a few exists, but if it exists _because_ of what the society is practicing. People have free will, so if a few people are communist in a generally ancap system or a few people engage in wage work in a communist system, that doesn't invalidate the entire system. Some people will always deviate from the existing social system, so for a utilitarian challenge to have teeth it has to be notable; in this case the sexual harassment would have to be more than a few "isolated incidents", it would have to be somewhat widespread (which of course would happen in your view since you're saying it stems inevitably from private property).

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

          Ok, then I think we agree on this but this is still a utilitarian approach in that we say that by following and respecting so and so ethical rules (including rules on ownership) we will reach the max happiness for the max amount of people. Of course there's always the chance that some might choose not to follow such ethical rules or live within such a society but that obviously can't be blamed on the rules themselves.

          And thus I argue that it's the ethical/social framework of the AnCaps that is flawed and will reach flawed results. One such flaw is that it does not see any ethical problem with someone selling their liberty for survival.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/FrancoisT Francois Tremblay

    Your classification is strangely labeled. I am of the first kind but I would never, ever call myself a utilitarian. Utilitarianism cannot admit of any principles beyond the utilitarian standard of evaluation. Besides, something like "equality" or "liberty" is too abstract for any utilitarian theory to deal with, even if it could work at all.

    • http://twitter.com/noor91 @noor91

      I think it means that you adopt a belief in markets because you believe markets are most _useful_ in achieving your value of a hierarchy-free society.

      I actually qualify as a utilitarian, moral realist, pragmatist, relativist, egoist, nihilist, and others, provided a certain usage of each term and context.

      Anyway, I'm interested in what would replace markets under ancom, since I have only a vague idea.

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

      Principles can just as well occur via Utilitarianism. The only difference is that they are not arbitrary but begin from an evaluation. Therefore one can be for egalitarianism and liberty because they bring the best utilitarian result.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/FrancoisT Francois Tremblay

        No, there's no way, even if utilitarianism was possible, to arrive to such a conclusion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=585070296 Yosef McGinnis

    I am most definitely in the first, though I am open-minded enough to say that a free market may not always (or ever) be the the best solution. This is why I fluxuate around the libertarian left spectrum… libsoc, mutualism, and even agorism (though I would label myself "left agorist" or something, because I see it as requiring a market, not property; and support worker-owned co-ops and the like only).

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

    Needless to say, I disagree but I'm not in the current mood to expand on this here.

  • http://revpro.blogspot.com Steve

    Many people still seemed convinced that freedom is capitalism and capitalism is freedom, and it's very hard to convince them otherwise. I think all the anti-soviet propaganda of the Cold War is still having an effect on Americans, though it seems as if at least some are at a point where they are willing to re-evaluate the fundamentals of our current system.
    And I like the term "market anarchist" by the way, I may have to borrow it for my own personal arguments…

  • Pingback: Is Anarchism a form of social Darwinism? | A Division by Zer0

  • http://impinoy.com im_pinoy

    Just to add up on your article .. It is a western philosophy with diverse interpretations, though some general commonalities can be found in its many incarnations. Its proponents generally advocate a worker-oriented system of production and organization in the workplace that in some aspects radically departs from neoclassical economics in favor of democratic cooperatives or common ownership of the means of production They propose that this economic system be executed in a manner that attempts to maximize the liberty of individuals and minimize concentration of power or authority.

  • http://brimpossible.blogspot.com Dave

    I think the word you're looking for is "voluntary." Market anarchists may be suspicious of hierarchy and authority, but have not figured out how to forbid consenting adults from indulging in them in the context of a free society. OTOH, if people had any sense and a real choice, maybe they'd be about as popular as hitting yourself in the head with a hammer. Stuff syndicalists say usually sounds to me like they do not want to let me choose. I guess capitalism is just so evil you can't have it happening anywhere near without getting cooties on ya.

    For some reason, I feel like pimping my old blog post, "Property is Theft?" http://brimpossible.blogspot.com/2013/01/property