4 What is the right-libertarian position on private property?

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4 What is the right-libertarian position on private property?

Right libertarians are not interested in eliminating capitalist private property and thus the authority, oppression and exploitation which goes with it. It is true that they call for an end to the state, but this is not because they are concerned about workers being exploited or oppressed but because they don't want the state to impede capitalists' "freedom" to exploit and oppress workers even more than is the case now!

They make an idol of private property and claim to defend absolute, "unrestricted" property rights (i.e. that property owners can do anything they like with their property, as long as it does not damage the property of others. In particular, taxation and theft are among the greatest evils possible as they involve coercion against "justly held" property). They agree with John Adams that "[t]he moment that idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the Laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. Property must be sacred or liberty cannot exist."

But in their celebration of property as the source of liberty they ignore the fact that private property is a source of "tyranny" in itself (see sections B.1 and B.4, for example -- and please note that anarchists only object to private property, not individual possession, see section B.3.1). However, as much anarchists may disagree about other matters, they are united in condemning private property. Thus Proudhon argued that property was "theft" and "despotism" while Stirner indicated the religious and statist nature of private property and its impact on individual liberty when he wrote :

"Property in the civic sense means sacred property, such that I must respect your property... Be it ever so little, if one only has somewhat of his own - to wit, a respected property: The more such owners... the more 'free people and good patriots' has the State.

"Political liberalism, like everything religious, counts on respect, humaneness, the virtues of love. . . . For in practice people respect nothing, and everyday the small possessions are bought up again by greater proprietors, and the 'free people' change into day labourers." [The Ego and Its Own, p. 248]

Thus "anarcho"-capitalists reject totally one of the common (and so defining) features of all anarchist traditions -- the opposition to capitalist property. From Individualist Anarchists like Tucker to Communist-Anarchists like Bookchin, anarchists have been opposed to what Godwin termed "accumulated property." This was because it was in "direct contradiction" to property in the form of "the produce of his [the worker's] own industry" and so it allows "one man. . . [to] dispos[e] of the produce of another man's industry." [The Anarchist Reader, pp. 129-131] Thus, for anarchists, capitalist property is a source exploitation and domination, not freedom (it undermines the freedom associated with possession by created relations of domination between owner and employee).

Hardly surprising then the fact that, according to Murray Bookchin, Murray Rothbard "attacked me [Bookchin] as an anarchist with vigour because, as he put it, I am opposed to private property." [The Raven, no. 29, p. 343]

We will discuss Rothbard's "homesteading" justification of property in the next section. However, we will note here one aspect of right-libertarian defence of "unrestricted" property rights, namely that it easily generates evil side effects such as hierarchy and starvation. As famine expert Amartya Sen notes:

"Take a theory of entitlements based on a set of rights of 'ownership, transfer and rectification.' In this system a set of holdings of different people are judged to be just (or unjust) by looking at past history, and not by checking the consequences of that set of holdings. But what if the consequences are recognisably terrible? . . .[R]efer[ing] to some empirical findings in a work on famines . . . evidence [is presented] to indicate that in many large famines in the recent past, in which millions of people have died, there was no over-all decline in food availability at all, and the famines occurred precisely because of shifts in entitlement resulting from exercises of rights that are perfectly legitimate. . . . [Can] famines . . . occur with a system of rights of the kind morally defended in various ethical theories, including Nozick's. I believe the answer is straightforwardly yes, since for many people the only resource that they legitimately possess, viz. their labour-power, may well turn out to be unsaleable in the market, giving the person no command over food . . . [i]f results such as starvations and famines were to occur, would the distribution of holdings still be morally acceptable despite their disastrous consequences? There is something deeply implausible in the affirmative answer." [Resources, Values and Development, pp. 311-2]

Thus "unrestricted" property rights can have seriously bad consequences and so the existence of "justly held" property need not imply a just or free society -- far from it. The inequalities property can generate can have a serious on individual freedom (see section 3.1). Indeed, Murray Rothbard argued that the state was evil not because it restricted individual freedom but because the resources it claimed to own were not "justly" acquired. Thus right-libertarian theory judges property not on its impact on current freedom but by looking at past history. This has the interesting side effect of allowing its supporters to look at capitalist and statist hierarchies, acknowledge their similar negative effects on the liberty of those subjected to them but argue that one is legitimate and the other is not simply because of their history! As if this changed the domination and unfreedom that both inflict on people living today (see section 2.3 for further discussion and sections 2.8 and 4.2 for other examples of "justly acquired" property producing terrible consequences).

The defence of capitalist property does have one interesting side effect, namely the need arises to defend inequality and the authoritarian relationships inequality creates. In order to protect the private property needed by capitalists in order to continue exploiting the working class, "anarcho"-capitalists propose private security forces rather than state security forces (police and military) -- a proposal that is equivalent to bringing back the state under another name.

Due to (capitalist) private property, wage labour would still exist under "anarcho"-capitalism (it is capitalism after all). This means that "defensive" force, a state, is required to "defend" exploitation, oppression, hierarchy and authority from those who suffer them. Inequality makes a mockery of free agreement and "consent" (see section 3.1). As Peter Kropotkin pointed out long ago:

"When a workman sells his labour to an employer . . . it is a mockery to call that a free contract. Modern economists may call it free, but the father of political economy -- Adam Smith -- was never guilty of such a misrepresentation. As long as three-quarters of humanity are compelled to enter into agreements of that description, force is, of course, necessary, both to enforce the supposed agreements and to maintain such a state of things. Force -- and a good deal of force -- is necessary to prevent the labourers from taking possession of what they consider unjustly appropriated by the few. . . . The Spencerian party [proto-right-libertarians] perfectly well understand that; and while they advocate no force for changing the existing conditions, they advocate still more force than is now used for maintaining them. As to Anarchy, it is obviously as incompatible with plutocracy as with any other kind of -cracy." [Anarchism and Anarchist Communism, pp. 52-53]

Because of this need to defend privilege and power, "anarcho"-capitalism is best called "private-state" capitalism. This will be discussed in more detail in section 6.

By advocating private property, right libertarians contradict many of their other claims. For example, they say that they support the right of individuals to travel where they like. They make this claim because they assume that only the state limits free travel. But this is a false assumption. Owners must agree to let you on their land or property ("people only have the right to move to those properties and lands where the owners desire to rent or sell to them." [Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, p. 119]. There is no "freedom of travel" onto private property (including private roads). Therefore immigration may be just as hard under "anarcho"-capitalism as it is under statism (after all, the state, like the property owner, only lets people in whom it wants to let in). People will still have to get another property owner to agree to let them in before they can travel -- exactly as now (and, of course, they also have to get the owners of the road to let them in as well). Private property, as can be seen from this simple example, is the state writ small.

One last point, this ignoring of ("politically incorrect") economic and other views of dead political thinkers and activists while claiming them as "libertarians" seems to be commonplace in right-Libertarian circles. For example, Aristotle (beloved by Ayn Rand) "thought that only living things could bear fruit. Money, not a living thing, was by its nature barren, and any attempt to make it bear fruit (tokos, in Greek, the same word used for interest) was a crime against nature." [Marcello de Cecco, quoted by Doug Henwood, Wall Street, p. 41] Such opposition to interest hardly fits well into capitalism, and so either goes unmentioned or gets classed as an "error" (although we could ask why Aristotle is in error while Rand is not). Similarly, individualist anarchist opposition to capitalist property and rent, interest and profits is ignored or dismissed as "bad economics" without realising that these ideas played a key role in their politics and in ensuring that an anarchy would not see freedom corrupted by inequality. To ignore such an important concept in a person's ideas is to distort the remainder into something it is not.

4.1 What is wrong with a "homesteading" theory of property?

So how do "anarcho"-capitalists justify property? Looking at Murray Rothbard, we find that he proposes a "homesteading theory of property". In this theory it is argued that property comes from occupancy and mixing labour with natural resources (which are assumed to be unowned). Thus the world is transformed into private property, for "title to an unowned resource (such as land) comes properly only from the expenditure of labour to transform that resource into use." [The Ethics of Liberty, p. 63]

Rothbard paints a conceptual history of individuals and families forging a home in the wilderness by the sweat of their labour (its tempting to rename his theory the "immaculate conception of property" as his conceptual theory is somewhat at odds with actual historical fact).

Sadly for Murray Rothbard, his "homesteading" theory was refuted by Proudhon in What is Property? in 1840 (along with many other justifications of property). Proudhon rightly argues that "if the liberty of man is sacred, it is equally sacred in all individuals; that, if it needs property for its objective action, that is, for its life, the appropriation of material is equally necessary for all . . . Does it not follow that if one individual cannot prevent another . . . from appropriating an amount of material equal to his own, no more can he prevent individuals to come." And if all the available resources are appropriated, and the owner "draws boundaries, fences himself in . . . Here, then, is a piece of land upon which, henceforth, no one has a right to step, save the proprietor and his friends . . . Let [this]. . . multiply, and soon the people . . . will have nowhere to rest, no place to shelter, no ground to till. They will die at the proprietor's door, on the edge of that property which was their birthright." [What is Property?, pp. 84-85, p. 118]

As Rothbard himself noted in respect to the aftermath of slavery (see section 2.1), not having access to the means of life places one the position of unjust dependency on those who do. Rothbard's theory fails because for "[w]e who belong to the proletaire class, property excommunicates us!" [P-J Proudhon, Op. Cit., p. 105] and so the vast majority of the population experience property as theft and despotism rather than as a source of liberty and empowerment (which possession gives). Thus, Rothbard's account fails to take into account the Lockean Proviso (see section B.3.4) and so, for all its intuitive appeal, ends up justifying capitalist and landlord domination (see next section on why the Lockean Proviso is important).

It also seems strange that while (correctly) attacking social contract theories of the state as invalid (because "no past generation can bind later generations" [Op. Cit., p. 145]) he fails to see he is doing exactly that with his support of private property (similarly, Ayn Rand argued that "[a]ny alleged 'right' of one man, which necessitates the violation of the right of another, is not and cannot be a right" [Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 325] but obviously appropriating land does violate the rights of others to walk, use or appropriate that land). Due to his support for appropriation and inheritance, he is clearly ensuring that future generations are not born as free as the first settlers were (after all, they cannot appropriate any land, it is all taken!). If future generations cannot be bound by past ones, this applies equally to resources and property rights. Something anarchists have long realised -- there is no defensible reason why those who first acquired property should control its use by future generations.

However, if we take Rothbard's theory at face value we find numerous problems with it. If title to unowned resources comes via the "expenditure of labour" on it, how can rivers, lakes and the oceans be appropriated? The banks of the rivers can be transformed, but can the river itself? How can you mix your labour with water? "Anarcho"-capitalists usually blame pollution on the fact that rivers, oceans, and so forth are unowned, but how can an individual "transform" water by their labour? Also, does fencing in land mean you have "mixed labour" with it? If so then transnational corporations can pay workers to fence in vast tracks of virgin land (such as rainforest) and so come to "own" it. Rothbard argues that this is not the case (he expresses opposition to "arbitrary claims"). He notes that it is not the case that "the first discoverer . . . could properly lay claim to [a piece of land] . . . [by] laying out a boundary for the area." He thinks that "their claim would still be no more than the boundary itself, and not to any of the land within, for only the boundary will have been transformed and used by men" [Op. Cit., p. 50f]

However, if the boundary is private property and the owner refuses others permission to cross it, then the enclosed land is inaccessible to others! If an "enterprising" right-libertarian builds a fence around the only oasis in a desert and refuses permission to cross it to travellers unless they pay his price (which is everything they own) then the person has appropriated the oasis without "transforming" it by his labour. The travellers have the choice of paying the price or dying (and the oasis owner is well within his rights letting them die). Given Rothbard's comments, it is probable that he will claim that such a boundary is null and void as it allows "arbitrary" claims -- although this position is not at all clear. After all, the fence builder has transformed the boundary and "unrestricted" property rights is what right-libertarianism is all about.

And, of course, Rothbard ignores the fact of economic power -- a transnational corporation can "transform" far more virgin resources in a day than a family could in a year. Transnational's "mixing their labour" with the land does not spring into mind reading Rothbard's account of property growth, but in the real world that is what will happen.

If we take the question of wilderness (a topic close to many eco-anarchists' and deep ecologists' hearts) we run into similar problems. Rothbard states clearly that "libertarian theory must invalidate [any] claim to ownership" of land that has "never been transformed from its natural state" (he presents an example of an owner who has left a piece of his "legally owned" land untouched). If another person appears who does transform the land, it becomes "justly owned by another" and the original owner cannot stop her (and should the original owner "use violence to prevent another settler from entering this never-used land and transforming it into use" they also become a "criminal aggressor"). Rothbard also stresses that he is not saying that land must continually be in use to be valid property [Op. Cit., pp. 63-64] (after all, that would justify landless workers seizing the land from landowners during a depression and working it themselves).

Now, where does that leave wilderness? In response to ecologists who oppose the destruction of the rainforest, "anarcho"-capitalists suggest that they put their money where their mouth is and buy rainforest land. In this way, it is claimed, rainforest will be protected (see section B.5 for why such arguments are nonsense). As ecologists desire the rainforest because it is wilderness they are unlikely to "transform" it by human labour (its precisely that they want to stop). From Rothbard's arguments it is fair to ask whether logging companies have a right to "transform" the virgin wilderness owned by ecologists, after all it meets Rothbard's criteria (it is still wilderness). Perhaps it will be claimed that fencing off land "transforms" it (hardly what you imagine "mixing labour" with to mean, but nevermind) -- but that allows large companies and rich individuals to hire workers to fence in vast tracks of land (and recreate the land monopoly by a "libertarian" route). But as we noted above, fencing off land does not seem to imply that it becomes property in Rothbard's theory. And, of course, fencing in areas of rainforest disrupts the local eco-system -- animals cannot freely travel, for example -- which, again, is what ecologists desire to stop. Would Rothbard accept a piece of paper as "transforming" land? We doubt it (after all, in his example the wilderness owner did legally own it) -- and so most ecologists will have a hard time in "anarcho"-capitalism (wilderness is just not an option).

As an aside, we must note that Rothbard fails to realise -- and this comes from his worship of the market and his "Austrian economics" -- is that people value many things which do not appear on the market. He claims that wilderness is "valueless unused natural objects" (for it people valued them, they would use -- i.e. appropriate -- them). But unused things may be of considerable value to people, wilderness being a classic example. And if something cannot be transformed into private property, does that mean people do not value it? For example, people value community, stress free working environments, meaningful work -- if the market cannot provide these, does that mean they do not value them? Of course not (see Juliet Schor's The Overworked American on how working people's desire for shorter working hours was not transformed into options on the market).

Moreover, Rothbard's "homesteading" theory actually violates his support for unrestricted property rights. What if a property owner wants part of her land to remain wilderness? Their desires are violated by the "homesteading" theory (unless, of course, fencing things off equals "transforming" them, which it apparently does not). How can companies provide wilderness holidays to people if they have no right to stop settlers (including large companies) "homesteading" that wilderness? And, of course, where does Rothbard's theory leave hunter-gather or nomad societies. They use the resources of the wilderness, but they do not "transform" them (in this case you cannot easily tell if virgin land is empty or being used as a resource). If a troop of nomads find its traditionally used, but natural, oasis appropriated by a homesteader what are they to do? If they ignore the homesteaders claims he can call upon his "defence" firm to stop them -- and then, in true Rothbardian fashion, the homesteader can refuse to supply water to them unless they hand over all their possessions (see section 4.2 on this). And if the history of the United States (which is obviously the model for Rothbard's theory) is anything to go by, such people will become "criminal aggressors" and removed from the picture.

Which is another problem with Rothbard's account. It is completely ahistoric (and so, as we noted above, is more like an "immaculate conception of property"). He has transported "capitalist man" into the dawn of time and constructed a history of property based upon what he is trying to justify (not surprising, as he does this with his "Natural Law" theory too - see section 7). What is interesting to note, though, is that the actual experience of life on the US frontier (the historic example Rothbard seems to want to claim) was far from the individualistic framework he builds upon it and (ironically enough) it was destroyed by the development of capitalism.

As Murray Bookchin notes, "the independence that the New England yeomanry enjoyed was itself a function of the co-operative social base from which it emerged. To barter home-grown goods and objects, to share tools and implements, to engage in common labour during harvesting time in a system of mutual aid, indeed, to help new-comers in barn-raising, corn-husking, log-rolling, and the like, was the indispensable cement that bound scattered farmsteads into a united community." [The Third Revolution, vol. 1, p. 233] Bookchin quotes David P. Szatmary (author of a book on Shay' Rebellion) stating that it was a society based upon "co-operative, community orientated interchanges" and not a "basically competitive society." [Ibid.]

Into this non-capitalist society came capitalist elements. Market forces and economic power soon resulted in the transformation of this society. Merchants asked for payment in specie which (and along with taxes) soon resulted in indebtedness and the dispossession of the homesteaders from their land and goods. In response Shay's rebellion started, a rebellion which was an important factor in the centralisation of state power in America to ensure that popular input and control over government were marginalised and that the wealthy elite and their property rights were protected against the many (see Bookchin, Op. Cit., for details). Thus the homestead system was undermined, essentially, by the need to pay for services in specie (as demanded by merchants).

So while Rothbard's theory as a certain appeal (reinforced by watching too many Westerns, we imagine) it fails to justify the "unrestricted" property rights theory (and the theory of freedom Rothbard derives from it). All it does is to end up justifying capitalist and landlord domination (which is probably what it was intended to do).

4.2 Why is the "Lockean Proviso" important?

Robert Nozick, in his work Anarchy, State, and Utopia presented a case for private property rights that was based on what he termed the "Lockean Proviso" -- namely that common (or unowned) land and resources could be appropriated by individuals as long as the position of others is not worsen by so doing. However, if we do take this Proviso seriously private property rights cannot be defined (see section B.3.4 for details). Thus Nozick's arguments in favour of property rights fail.

Some right-libertarians, particularly those associated with the Austrian school of economics argue that we must reject the Lockean Proviso (probably due to the fact it can be used to undermine the case for absolute property rights). Their argument goes as follows: if an individual appropriates and uses a previously unused resource, it is because it has value to him/her, as an individual, to engage in such action. The individual has stolen nothing because it was previously unowned and we cannot know if other people are better or worse off, all we know is that, for whatever reason, they did not appropriate the resource ("If latecomers are worse off, well then that is their proper assumption of risk in this free and uncertain world. There is no longer a vast frontier in the United States, and there is no point crying over the fact." [Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, p. 240]).

Hence the appropriation of resources is an essentially individualistic, asocial act -- the requirements of others are either irrelevant or unknown. However, such an argument fails to take into account why the Lockean Proviso has such an appeal. When we do this we see that rejecting it leads to massive injustice, even slavery.

However, let us start with a defence of rejecting the Proviso from a leading Austrian economist:

"Consider . . . the case . . . of the unheld sole water hole in the desert (which everyone in a group of travellers knows about), which one of the travellers, by racing ahead of the others, succeeds in appropriating . . . [This] clearly and unjustly violates the Lockean proviso. . . For use, however, this view is by no means the only one possible. We notice that the energetic traveller who appropriated all the water was not doing anything which (always ignoring, of course, prohibitions resting on the Lockean proviso itself) the other travellers were not equally free to do. The other travellers, too, could have raced ahead . . . [they] did not bother to race for the water . . . It does not seem obvious that these other travellers can claim that they were hurt by an action which they could themselves have easily taken" [Israel M. Kirzner, "Entrepreneurship, Entitlement, and Economic Justice", pp. 385-413, in Reading Nozick, p. 406]

Murray Rothbard, we should note, takes a similar position in a similar example, arguing that "the owner [of the sole oasis] is scarcely being 'coercive'; in fact he is supplying a vital service, and should have the right to refuse a sale or charge whatever the customers will pay. The situation may be unfortunate for the customers, as are many situations in life." [The Ethics of Liberty, p. 221] (Rothbard, we should note, is relying to the right-libertarian von Hayek who -- to his credit -- does maintain that this is a coercive situation; but as others, including other right-libertarians, point out, he has to change his definition of coercion/freedom to do so -- see Stephan L. Newman's Liberalism at Wit's End, pp. 130-134 for an excellent summary of this debate).

Now, we could be tempted just to rant about the evils of the right libertarian mind-frame but we will try to present a clam analysis of this position. Now, what Kirzner (and Rothbard et al) fails to note is that without the water the other travellers will die in a matter of days. The monopolist has the power of life and death over his fellow travellers. Perhaps he hates one of them and so raced ahead to ensure their death. Perhaps he just recognised the vast power that his appropriation would give him and so, correctly, sees that the other travellers would give up all their possessions and property to him in return for enough water to survive.

Either way, its clear that perhaps the other travellers did not "race ahead" because they were ethical people -- they would not desire to inflict such tyranny on others because they would not like it inflicted upon them.

Thus we can answer Kirzner's question -- "What . . . is so obviously acceptable about the Lockean proviso. . . ?" [Ibid.]

It is the means by which human actions are held accountable to social standards and ethics. It is the means by which the greediest, most evil and debased humans are stopped from dragging the rest of humanity down to their level (via a "race to the bottom") and inflicting untold tyranny and domination on their fellow humans. An ideology that could consider the oppression which could result from such an appropriation as "supplying a vital service" and any act to remove this tyranny as "coercion" is obviously a very sick ideology. And we may note that the right-libertarian position on this example is a good illustration of the dangers of deductive logic from assumptions (see section 1.3 for more on this right-libertarian methodology) -- after all W. Duncan Reekie, in his introduction to Austrian Economics, states that "[t]o be intellectually consistent one must concede his absolute right to the oasis." [Markets, Entrepreneurs and Liberty, p. 181] To place ideology before people is to ensure humanity is placed on a Procrustean bed.

Which brings us to another point. Often right-libertarians say that anarchists and other socialists are "lazy" or "do not want to work". You could interpret Kirzner's example as saying that the other travellers are "lazy" for not rushing ahead and appropriating the oasis. But this is false. For under capitalism you can only get rich by exploiting the labour of others via wage slavery or, within a company, get better pay by taking "positions of responsibility" (i.e. management positions). If you have an ethical objection to treating others as objects ("means to an end") then these options are unavailable to you. Thus anarchists and other socialists are not "lazy" because they are not rich -- they just have no desire to get rich off the labour and liberty of others (as expressed in their opposition to private property and the relations of domination it creates). In other words, Anarchism is not the "politics of envy"; it is the politics of liberty and the desire to treat others as "ends in themselves".

Rothbard is aware of what is involved in accepting the Lockean Proviso -- namely the existence of private property ("Locke's proviso may lead to the outlawry of all private property of land, since one can always say that the reduction of available land leaves everyone else . . . worse off", The Ethics of Liberty, p. 240 -- see section B.3.4 for a discussion on why the Proviso does imply the end of capitalist property rights). Which is why he, and other right-libertarians, reject it. Its simple. Either you reject the Proviso and embrace capitalist property rights (and so allow one class of people to be dispossessed and another empowered at their expense) or you reject private property in favour of possession and liberty. Anarchists, obviously, favour the latter option.

As an aside, we should point out that (following Stirner) the would-be monopolist is doing nothing wrong (as such) in attempting to monopolise the oasis. He is, after all, following his self-interest. However, what is objectionable is the right-libertarian attempt to turn thus act into a "right" which must be respected by the other travellers. Simply put, if the other travellers gang up and dispose of this would be tyrant then they are right to do so -- to argue that this is a violation of the monopolists "rights" is insane and an indication of a slave mentality (or, following Rousseau, that the others are "simple"). Of course, if the would-be monopolist has the necessary force to withstand the other travellers then his property then the matter is closed -- might makes right. But to worship rights, even when they obviously result in despotism, is definitely a case of "spooks in the head" and "man is created for the Sabbath" not "the Sabbath is created for man."

4.3 How does private property effect individualism?

Private property is usually associated by "anarcho"-capitalism with individualism. Usually private property is seen as the key way of ensuring individualism and individual freedom (and that private property is the expression of individualism). Therefore it is useful to indicate how private property can have a serious impact on individualism.

Usually right-libertarians contrast the joys of "individualism" with the evils of "collectivism" in which the individual is sub-merged into the group or collective and is made to work for the benefit of the group (see any Ayn Rand book or essay on the evils of collectivism).

But what is ironic is that right-libertarian ideology creates a view of industry which would (perhaps) shame even the most die-hard fan of Stalin. What do we mean? Simply that right-libertarians stress the abilities of the people at the top of the company, the owner, the entrepreneur, and tend to ignore the very real subordination of those lower down the hierarchy (see, again, any Ayn Rand book on the worship of business leaders). In the Austrian school of economics, for example, the entrepreneur is considered the driving force of the market process and tend to abstract away from the organisations they govern. This approach is usually followed by right-libertarians. Often you get the impression that the accomplishments of a firm are the personal triumphs of the capitalists, as though their subordinates are merely tools not unlike the machines on which they labour.

We should not, of course, interpret this to mean that right-libertarians believe that entrepreneurs run their companies single-handedly (although you do get that impression sometimes!). But these abstractions help hide the fact that the economy is overwhelmingly interdependent and organised hierarchically within industry. Even in their primary role as organisers, entrepreneurs depend on the group. A company president can only issue general guidelines to his managers, who must inevitably organise and direct much of their departments on their own. The larger a company gets, the less personal and direct control an entrepreneur has over it. They must delegate out an increasing share of authority and responsibility, and is more dependent than ever on others to help him run things, investigate conditions, inform policy, and make recommendations. Moreover, the authority structures are from the "top-down" -- indeed the firm is essentially a command economy, with all members part of a collective working on a common plan to achieve a common goal (i.e. it is essentially collectivist in nature -- which means it is not too unsurprising that Lenin argued that state socialism could be considered as one big firm or office and why the system he built on that model was so horrific).

So the firm (the key component of the capitalist economy) is marked by a distinct lack of individualism, a lack usually ignored by right libertarians (or, at best, considered as "unavoidable"). As these firms are hierarchical structures and workers are paid to obey, it does make some sense -- in a capitalist environment -- to assume that the entrepreneur is the main actor, but as an individualistic model of activity it fails totally. Perhaps it would not be unfair to say that capitalist individualism celebrates the entrepreneur because this reflects a hierarchical system in which for the one to flourish, the many must obey? (Also see section 1.1).

Capitalist individualism does not recognise the power structures that exist within capitalism and how they affect individuals. In Brian Morris' words, what they fail "to recognise is that most productive relations under capitalism allow little scope for creativity and self-expression on the part of workers; that such relationships are not equitable; nor are they freely engaged in for the mutual benefit of both parties, for workers have no control over the production process or over the product of their labour. Rand [like other right-libertarians] misleadingly equates trade, artistic production and wage-slavery. . . [but] wage-slavery . . . is quite different from the trade principle" as it is a form of "exploitation." [Ecology & Anarchism, p. 190]

He further notes that "[s]o called trade relations involving human labour are contrary to the egoist values Rand [and other capitalist individualists] espouses - they involve little in the way of independence, freedom, integrity or justice." [Ibid., p. 191]

Moreover, capitalist individualism actually supports authority and hierarchy. As Joshua Chen and Joel Rogers point out, the "achievement of short-run material satisfaction often makes it irrational [from an individualist perspective] to engage in more radical struggle, since that struggle is by definition against those institutions which provide one's current gain." In other words, to rise up the company structure, to "better oneself," (or even get a good reference) you cannot be a pain in the side of management -- obedient workers do well, rebel workers do not.

Thus the hierarchical structures help develop an "individualistic" perspective which actually reinforces those authority structures. This, as Cohn and Rogers notes, means that "the structure in which [workers] find themselves yields less than optimal social results from their isolated but economically rational decisions." [quoted by Alfie Kohn, No Contest, p. 67, p. 260f]

Steve Biko, a black activist murdered by the South African police in the 1970s, argued that "the most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed." And this is something capitalists have long recognised. Their investment in "Public Relations" and "education" programmes for their employees shows this clearly, as does the hierarchical nature of the firm. By having a ladder to climb, the firm rewards obedience and penalises rebellion. This aims at creating a mind-set which views hierarchy as good and so helps produce servile people.

This is why anarchists would agree with Alfie Kohn when he argues that "the individualist worldview is a profoundly conservative doctrine: it inherently stifles change." [Ibid., p. 67] So, what is the best way for a boss to maintain his or her power? Create a hierarchical workplace and encourage capitalist individualism (as capitalist individualism actually works against attempts to increase freedom from hierarchy). Needless to say, such a technique cannot work forever -- hierarchy also encourages revolt -- but such divide and conquer can be very effective.

And as anarchist author Michael Moorcock put it, "Rugged individualism also goes hand in hand with a strong faith in paternalism -- albeit a tolerant and somewhat distant paternalism -- and many otherwise sharp-witted libertarians seem to see nothing in the morality of a John Wayne Western to conflict with their views. Heinlein's paternalism is at heart the same as Wayne's. . . To be an anarchist, surely, is to reject authority but to accept self-discipline and community responsibility. To be a rugged individualist a la Heinlein and others is to be forever a child who must obey, charm and cajole to be tolerated by some benign, omniscient father: Rooster Coburn shuffling his feet in front of a judge he respects for his office (but not necessarily himself) in True Grit." [Starship Stormtroopers]

One last thing, don't be fooled into thinking that individualism or concern about individuality -- not quite the same thing -- is restricted to the right, they are not. For example, the "individualist theory of society . . . might be advanced in a capitalist or in an anti-capitalist form . . . the theory as developed by critics of capitalism such as Hodgskin and the anarchist Tucker saw ownership of capital by a few as an obstacle to genuine individualism, and the individualist ideal was realisable only through the free association of labourers (Hodgskin) or independent proprietorship (Tucker)." [David Miller, Social Justice, pp. 290-1]

And the reason why social anarchists oppose capitalism is that it creates a false individualism, an abstract one which crushes the individuality of the many and justifies (and supports) hierarchical and authoritarian social relations. In Kropotkin's words, "what has been called 'individualism' up to now has been only a foolish egoism which belittles the individual. It did not led to what it was established as a goal: that is the complete, broad, and most perfectly attainable development of individuality." The new individualism desired by Kropotkin "will not consist . . . in the oppression of one's neighbour . . . [as this] reduced the [individualist] . . .to the level of an animal in a herd." [Selected Writings, p, 295, p. 296]

4.4 How does private property affect relationships?

Obviously, capitalist private property affects relationships between people by creating structures of power. Property, as we have argued all through this FAQ, creates relationships based upon domination -- and this cannot help but produce servile tendencies within those subject to them (it also produces rebellious tendencies as well, the actual ratio between the two tendencies dependent on the individual in question and the community they are in). As anarchists have long recognised, power corrupts -- both those subjected to it and those who exercise it.

While few, if any, anarchists would fail to recognise the importance of possession -- which creates the necessary space all individuals need to be themselves -- they all agree that private property corrupts this liberatory aspect of "property" by allowing relationships of domination and oppression to be built up on top of it. Because of this recognition, all anarchists have tried to equalise property and turn it back into possession.

Also, capitalist individualism actively builds barriers between people. Under capitalism, money rules and individuality is expressed via consumption choices (i.e. money). But money does not encourage an empathy with others. As Frank Stronach (chair of Magna International, a Canadian auto-parts maker that shifted its production to Mexico) put it, "[t]o be in business your first mandate is to make money, and money has no heart, no soul, conscience, homeland." [cited by Doug Henwood, Wall Street, p. 113] And for those who study economics, it seems that this dehumanising effect also strikes them as well:

"Studying economics also seems to make you a nastier person. Psychological studies have shown that economics graduate students are more likely to 'free ride' -- shirk contributions to an experimental 'public goods' account in the pursuit of higher private returns -- than the general public. Economists also are less generous that other academics in charitable giving. Undergraduate economics majors are more likely to defect in the classic prisoner's dilemma game that are other majors. And on other tests, students grow less honest -- expressing less of a tendency, for example, to return found money -- after studying economics, but not studying a control subject like astronomy.

"This is no surprise, really. Mainstream economics is built entirely on a notion of self-interested individuals, rational self-maximisers who can order their wants and spend accordingly. There's little room for sentiment, uncertainty, selflessness, and social institutions. Whether this is an accurate picture of the average human is open to question, but there's no question that capitalism as a system and economics as a discipline both reward people who conform to the model." [Doug Henwood, Op. Cit., p, 143]

Which, of course, highlights the problems within the "trader" model advocated by Ayn Rand. According to her, the trader is the example of moral behaviour -- you have something I want, I have something you want, we trade and we both benefit and so our activity is self-interested and no-one sacrifices themselves for another. While this has some intuitive appeal it fails to note that in the real world it is a pure fantasy. The trader wants to get the best deal possible for themselves and if the bargaining positions are unequal then one person will gain at the expense of the other (if the "commodity" being traded is labour, the seller may not even have the option of not trading at all). The trader is only involved in economic exchange, and has no concern for the welfare of the person they are trading with. They are a bearer of things, not an individual with a wide range of interests, concerns, hopes and dreams. These are irrelevant, unless you can make money out of them of course! Thus the trader is often a manipulator and outside novels it most definitely is a case of "buyer beware!"

If the trader model is taken as the basis of interpersonal relationships, economic gain replaces respect and empathy for others. It replaces human relationships with relationships based on things -- and such a mentality does not encompass how interpersonal relationships affect both you and the society you life in. In the end, it impoverishes society and individuality. Yes, any relationship must be based upon self-interest (mutual aid is, after all, something we do because we benefit from it in some way) but the trader model presents such a narrow self-interest that it is useless and actively impoverishes the very things it should be protecting -- individuality and interpersonal relationships (see section I.7.4 on how capitalism does not protect individuality).

4.5 Does private property co-ordinate without hierarchy?

It is usually to find right-libertarians maintain that private property (i.e. capitalism) allows economic activity to be co-ordinated by non-hierarchical means. In other words, they maintain that capitalism is a system of large scale co-ordination without hierarchy. These claims follow the argument of noted right-wing, "free market" economist Milton Friedman who contrasts "central planning involving the use of coercion - the technique of the army or the modern totalitarian state" with "voluntary co-operation between individuals - the technique of the marketplace" as two distinct ways of co-ordinating the economic activity of large groups ("millions") of people. [Capitalism and Freedom, p. 13].

However, this is just playing with words. As they themselves point out the internal structure of a corporation or capitalist company is not a "market" (i.e. non-hierarchical) structure, it is a "non-market" (hierarchical) structure of a market participant (see section 2.2). However "market participants" are part of the market. In other words, capitalism is not a system of co-ordination without hierarchy because it does contain hierarchical organisations which are an essential part of the system!

Indeed, the capitalist company is a form of central planning and shares the same "technique" as the army. As the pro-capitalist writer Peter Drucker noted in his history of General Motors, "[t]here is a remarkably close parallel between General Motors' scheme of organisation and those of the two institutions most renowned for administrative efficiency: that of the Catholic Church and that of the modern army . . ." [quoted by David Enger, Apostles of Greed, p. 66]. And so capitalism is marked by a series of totalitarian organisations -- and since when was totalitarianism liberty enhancing? Indeed, many "anarcho"-capitalists actually celebrate the command economy of the capitalist firm as being more "efficient" than self-managed firms (usually because democracy stops action with debate). The same argument is applied by the Fascists to the political sphere. It does not change much -- nor does it become less fascistic -- when applied to economic structures. To state the obvious, such glorification of workplace dictatorship seems somewhat at odds with an ideology calling itself "libertarian" or "anarchist". Is dictatorship more liberty enhancing to those subject to it than democracy? Anarchists doubt it (see section A.2.11 for details).

In order to claim that capitalism co-ordinates individual activity without hierarchy right-libertarians have to abstract from individuals and how they interact within companies and concentrate purely on relationships between companies. This is pure sophistry. Like markets, companies require at least two or more people to work - both are forms of social co-operation. If co-ordination within companies is hierarchical, then the system they work within is based upon hierarchy. To claim that capitalism co-ordinates without hierarchy is simply false - its based on hierarchy and authoritarianism. Capitalist companies are based upon denying workers self-government (i.e. freedom) during work hours. The boss tells workers what to do, when to do, how to do and for how long. This denial of freedom is discussed in greater depth in sections B.1 and B.4.

Because of the relations of power it creates, opposition to capitalist private property (and so wage labour) and the desire to see it ended is an essential aspect of anarchist theory. Due to its ideological blind spot with regards to apparently "voluntary" relations of domination and oppression created by the force of circumstances (see section 2 for details), "anarcho"-capitalism considers wage labour as a form of freedom and ignore its fascistic aspects (when not celebrating those aspects). Thus "anarcho"-capitalism is not anarchist. By concentrating on the moment the contract is signed, they ignore that freedom is restricted during the contract itself. While denouncing (correctly) the totalitarianism of the army, they ignore it in the workplace. But factory fascism is just as freedom destroying as the army or political fascism.

Due to this basic lack of concern for freedom, "anarcho"-capitalists cannot be considered as anarchists. Their total lack of concern about factory fascism (i.e. wage labour) places them totally outside the anarchist tradition. Real anarchists have always been aware of that private property and wage labour restriction freedom and desired to create a society in which people would be able to avoid it. In other words, where all relations are non-hierarchical and truly co-operative.

To conclude, to claim that private property eliminates hierarchy is false. Nor does capitalism co-ordinate economic activities without hierarchical structures. For this reason anarchists support co-operative forms of production rather than capitalistic forms.



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