Mutualist Political Economy By Kevin A. Carson

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Studies in

Mutualist Political Economy

By Kevin A. Carson

Table of Contents

Preface 5

Part One--Theoretical Foundations: Value Theory 10

Chapter One: The Marginalist Assault on Classical Political Economy: An Assessment and Counter-Attack 10

A. Statement of the Classical Labor Theory of Value 10

B. Vulgar Political Economy, Marginalism, and the Issue of Ideological Motivation 14

C. The Marginalists versus Ricardo 22

D. Exceptions to the Cost-Principle: The Classicals in Their Own Defense 37

E. Generality and Paradigms 67

F. The Marshallian Synthesis 81

G. Rothbard versus the Marshallian Synthesis** 93


Chapter Two: A Subjective Recasting of the Labor Theory 119

Chapter Three: Time Preference and the Labor Theory of Value 194

Part Two--Capitalism and the State: Past, Present and Future 212

Introduction to Part II: Exploitation and the Political Means 212

Chapter Four--Primitive Accumulation and the Rise of Capitalism 266

Introduction. 266

A. The Expropriation of Land in the Old World 279

B. Political Preemption of Land in Settler Societies 303

C. Political Repression and Social Control in the Industrial Revolution. 309

D. Mercantilism, Colonialism, and the Creation of the "World Market" 328

Conclusion: “The World We Have Lost”--And Will Regain 346

Appendix: On the "Necessity" of Primitive Accumulation 362


Chapter Five: The State and Capitalism in the "Laissez-Faire" era. 387

A. Tucker‘s Big Four: The Land Monopoly. 390

B. Tucker‘s Big Four: The Money Monopoly. 434

C. Tucker's Big Four: Patents. 443

D. Tucker’s Big Four: Tariffs 455

E. Infrastructure 457



Chapter Six: The Rise of Monopoly Capitalism 476

Introduction. 476

A. Liberal Corporatism, Regulatory Cartelization, and the Permanent Warfare State. 483

B. Power Elite Theory. 517

C. Monopoly Capital and Super-Profits. 527

D. Socialization of Costs as a Form of Cartelization. 534


Chapter Seven--Monopoly Capitalism and Imperialism 556

 Introduction: Elite Reaction to Crisis (with Digression on Maldistribution of Income) 556

A. "Open Door Imperialism" Through the 1930s. 567

B. The Bretton Woods System: Culmination of Open Door Empire 572

C. Export-Dependent Monopoly Capitalism (with Digression on Economy of Scale) 600


Chapter Eight--Crisis Tendencies 630

Introduction. 630

A. Accumulation Crisis 632

B. Fiscal and Input Crises 635

C. Legitimation Crisis 659

D. Neoliberal Reaction and Political Repression 662

E. Built-In Limits to Effectiveness of Neoliberal Reaction 679

F. Neoconservatism as Attempted Defense Against Legitimation Crisis 685

G. The Frankfurt School: Fascism and Abandonment of the Law of Value 690

H. Global Political Crisis of Imperialism 694


Part Three--Praxis 705

Chapter Nine: Ends and Means 705

A. Organizing Principles. 705

B. Getting There. 713




In the mid-nineteenth century, a vibrant native American school of anarchism, known as individualist anarchism, existed alongside the other varieties. Like most other contemporary socialist thought, it was based on a radical interpretation of Ricardian economics. The classical individualist anarchism of Josiah Warren, Benjamin Tucker and Lysander Spooner was both a socialist movement and a subcurrent of classical liberalism. It agreed with the rest of the socialist movement that labor was the source of exchange-value, and that labor was entitled to its full product. Unlike the rest of the socialist movement, the individualist anarchists believed that the natural wage of labor in a free market was its product, and that economic exploitation could only take place when capitalists and landlords harnessed the power of the state in their interests. Thus, individualist anarchism was an alternative both to the increasing statism of the mainstream socialist movement, and to a classical liberal movement that was moving toward a mere apologetic for the power of big business.

Shawn Wilbur has argued that the late-nineteenth century split between individualists and communists in the American anarchist movement (for which the ill-feeling between Benjamin Tucker and Johann Most is a good proxy) left the individualists marginalized and weak. As a result, much of the movement created by Benjamin Tucker was absorbed or colonized by the right. Although there are many honorable exceptions who still embrace the "socialist" label, most people who call themselves "individualist anarchists" today are followers of Murray Rothbard's Austrian economics, and have abandoned the labor theory of value. Had not the anarchism of Tucker been marginalized and supplanted by that of Goldman, it might have been the center of a uniquely American version of populist radicalism. It might have worked out a more elaborate economic theory that was both free market and anti-capitalist, instead of abandoning the socialist label and being co-opted by the Right.

Some self-described individualist anarchists still embrace the socialist aspect of Tucker's thought--Joe Peacott, Jonathan Simcock, and Shawn Wilbur, for example. The Voluntary Cooperation Movement promotes the kinds of mutualist practice advocated by Proudhon. Elements of the nineteenth century radical tradition also survive under other names, in a variety of movements: Georgist, distributist, "human scale" technology, etc. Unfortunately, individualist anarchist economic thought has for the most part been frozen in a time warp for over a hundred years. If the marginalists and subjectivists have not dealt the labor theory of value the final death blow they smugly claim for it, they have nevertheless raised questions that any viable labor theory must answer.

This book is an attempt to revive individualist anarchist political economy, to incorporate the useful developments of the last hundred years, and to make it relevant to the problems of the twenty-first century. We hope this work will go at least part of the way to providing a new theoretical and practical foundation for free market socialist economics.

In Part One, which concerns value theory, we construct the theoretical apparatus for our later analysis. In this section, we attempt to resurrect the classical labor theory of value, to answer the attacks of its marginalist and subjectivist critics, and at the same time to reformulate the theory in a way that both addresses their valid criticisms and incorporates their useful innovations. Part One starts with an assessment of the marginalist revolution and its claims to have demolished the labor theory of value, and then proceeds either to refute these criticisms or to incorporate them.

Part Two analyzes the origins of capitalism in light of this theoretical apparatus; it is an attempt to explicate, if the reader will pardon the expression, the laws of motion of state capitalist society--from its origins in statism, through its collapse from the internal contradictions inherent in coercion. We analyze capitalism in the light of individualist anarchism's central insight: that labor's natural wage in a free market is its product, and that coercion is the only means of exploitation. It is state intervention that distinguishes capitalism from the free market.

Part Three, finally, is a vision of mutualist practice, building both on our own previous theoretical analysis, and on the rich history of anarchist thought.

If there is one valuable practical insight in this entire book, it is the realization that coercive state policies are not necessary to remedy the evils of present-day capitalism. All these evils--exploitation of labor, monopoly and concentration, the energy crisis, pollution, waste--result from government intervention in the market on behalf of capitalists. The solution is not more government intervention, but to eliminate the existing government intervention from which the problems derive. A genuine free market society, in which all transactions are voluntary and all costs are internalized in price, would be a decentralized society of human-scale production, in which all of labor's product went to labor, instead of to capitalists, landlords and government bureaucrats.

Some of the material of Parts Two and Three appeared previously in other forms. Chapter Four is a radically expanded and revised version of the subheading "The Subsidy of History" in my pamphlet "The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand," published by Red Lion Press in 2001. Chapter Five is likewise, an expanded version of other sections from the same pamphlet. Chapters Six and Seven are expanded versions of my article "Austrian and Marxist Theories of Monopoly Capitalism: A Mutualist Synthesis." Chapter Eight incorporates some material from the same article, along with the subheading "Political Repression" from "Iron Fist." Chapter Nine includes material from my article "A 'Political' Program for Anarchists."

Part One--Theoretical Foundations: Value Theory

Chapter One: The Marginalist Assault on Classical Political Economy: An Assessment and Counter-Attack

A. Statement of the Classical Labor Theory of Value

Either the labor theory of value, or, secondarily, some other form of cost theory of value,1 was common to the classical school of political economy in England.

It was stated by Adam Smith in ambiguous form: "The real price of everything, what everything really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it.... Labour was the first price, the original purchase-money that was paid for all things."2 In the same passage, though, he spoke of the value of a commodity in one's possession as consisting of "the quantity of the labour which he can command...." And at other times, he seemed to make the market price of labor the source of its effect on exchange value.

The most clear-cut and effective statement of the labor theory was by David Ricardo, in Principles of Political Economy and Taxation: "The value of a commodity, or the quantity of any other commodity for which it will exchange, depends on the relative quantity of labour which is necessary for its production, and not as the greater or less compensation which is paid for that labour."3 In so defining the doctrine, Ricardo eliminated the confusion between labor as the source of exchange-value and wages as a component of price.

From this principle, it followed that income accruing to the owners of land and capital was a deduction from this exchange-value created by labor, and that wages varied inversely with profit: "If the corn is to be divided between the farmer and the labourer, the larger the proportion that is given to the latter, the less will remain for the former. So if cloth or cotton goods be divided between the workman and his employer, the larger the proportion given to the former, the less remains for the latter."4

It was only natural that the emerging socialist movement should seize on the political implications of this conclusion. The school of so-called "Ricardian socialists" in England took just such an inspiration. The greatest of them, Thomas Hodgskin, wrote in Labour Defended Against the Claims of Capital, "Wages vary inversely as profits, or wages rise when profits fall, and profits rise when wages fall; and it is therefore profits, or the capitalist's share of the national produce, which is opposed to wages, or the share of the labourer."5

Marx, in turn, was inspired by the Ricardian socialist interpretation of classical political economy, as well as by Proudhon. According to Engels, modern socialism was a direct outgrowth of the insights of "bourgeois political economy" on the nature of wages, rent, and profit.

Insofar as modern socialism, no matter of what tendency, starts out from bourgeois political economy, it almost without exception takes up the Ricardian theory of value. The two propositions which Ricardo proclaimed in 1817 right at the beginning of his Principles, 1) that the value of any commodity is purely and solely determined by the quantity of labour required for its production, and 2) that the product of the entire social labor is divided among the three classes: landowners (rent), capitalists (profit), and workers (wages)--these two propositions had ever since 1821 been utilized in England for socialist conclusions, and in part with such pointedness and resolution that this literature, which had then almost been forgotten and was to a large extent only rediscovered by Marx, remained surpassed until the appearance of Capital.6

The actual extent to which Marx's theory of value is a straightforward outgrowth of Ricardo's, and to which it was a preexisting Hegelian philosophy with Ricardian elements grafted on, is an issue in dispute.7 But for the present purpose, we will treat Marx's theory of value as relevant to our study to the extent that it is amenable to a Ricardian approach.

B. Vulgar Political Economy, Marginalism, and the Issue of Ideological Motivation

Given the fertile ground Ricardo's political economy presented for socialist conclusions, it was naturally seen as problematic by apologists for the newly arisen system of industrial capitalism. Marx made a fundamental distinction, in this regard, between the classical political economists and the "vulgar economists" who came after them. Smith, James Mill and Ricardo had developed their scientific political economy without fear of its revolutionary implications, because industrial capital was still the progressive underdog in a revolutionary struggle against the unearned income of feudal landlords and chartered monopolists. But that situation came to an end with the capitalists' acquisition of political power.

In France and England the bourgeoisie had conquered power [in the "decisive crisis" year of 1830]. Thenceforth, the class struggle, practically as well as theoretically, took on more and more outspoken and threatening forms. It sounded the knoll of scientific bourgeois economy. It was thenceforth no longer a question whether this theorem or that was true, but whether it was useful to capital or harmful, expedient or inexpedient, politically dangerous or not. In place of disinterested enquirers, there were hired prize-fighters; in place of genuine scientific research, the bad conscience and the evil intent of apologetic.8

Maurice Dobb, likewise, commented on the transition of political economy from a revolutionary to an apologetic role:

As a critique leveled simultaneously against the authoritarianism of an autocratic state and against the privileges and influence of the landed aristocracy Political Economy at its inception played a revolutionary role.... Only later, in its post-Ricardian phase, did it pass over from assault on privilege and restriction to apology for property.9

Although the break was perhaps not as fundamental as the Marxists have made it out to be, there is evidence that at least some of the political economists from the 1830s on, as well as the founders of marginalism, were conscious of the political aspect of the problem. According to Maurice Dobb, the "vulgar political economists" were consciously motivated by apologetic considerations; as an alternative to the mainstream classical school of England, they turned to the subjectivist continental school, which had been influenced by Say's interpretation of Adam Smith.

It was against this whole [Ricardian] mode of approach that the Senior-Longfield school reacted so strongly--not merely as an inapposite analytical tool..., but against its wider applications and corollaries. In reacting in this way, it was almost inevitable that they should be carried in the wake of (and eventually join) the other and rival tradition deriving from Smith, reinforcing it by so doing. If they are properly described at all as "improvers" or "conciliators", such a term should really be applied to their role in developing this Smithian tradition and not the Ricardian approach.10

Among the first generation of marginalists, Jevons at least was quite conscious of the political dimension of his anti-Ricardian project. To quote Dobb again, "...although Menger could be said to have represented this break with classical tradition even more clearly and completely, Jevons was apparently more conscious of the role he was playing in reshunting the 'car of economic science' which Ricardo had so perversely directed 'onto a wrong line.'"11

Dobb considered it telling that the marginalist refinement of subjectivism had been produced near-simultaneously by three different writers, within a decade of the publication of Capital. It indicated a prevailing atmosphere of ideological combat, and a vacancy for anti-Marxian polemicists waiting to be filled.

It is, at least, a remarkable fact that within ten years of the appearance of the first volume of Kapital, not only had the rival utility-principle been enunciated independently by a number of writers, but the new principle was finding a receptivity to its acceptance such as very few ideas of similar novelty can ever have met. If only by the effect of negation, the influence of Marx on the economic theory of the nineteenth century would appear to have been much more profound than it is fashionable to admit….

That so many of the economists of the last quarter of the century should have advertised their wares as such an epoch-making novelty, and tilted their lances so menacingly at their forebears, seems to have an obvious, if unflattering explanation: namely, the dangerous use to which Ricardian notions had been recently put by Marx.12

And of the second generation of Austrians, Böhm-Bawerk seemed quite aware, in Dobb's opinion, of the ideological nature of the task before him.

It seems clear that Böhm-Bawerk at any rate appreciated the problem which the classical theory had sought to solve. While he is sparing, almost niggardly, in paying tribute to Marx even for formulating the question accurately, there is every indication that he framed his theory directly to provide a substitute answer to the questions which Marx had posed.13

If such speculations on the political motives of the marginalist revolutionaries seem "unflattering," unfair, or ad hominem, it is worth bearing in mind that Böhm-Bawerk himself was not above pointing to the ideological motivations of his predecessors, in language very reminiscent of Marx's dismissal of the "vulgar economists." Even more than grinding his axe against Marx, Böhm-Bawerk seems to have been motivated by a desire to demonstrate the originality of his own views at the expense of previous defenses of interest, like that of Nassau Senior.

Senior's Abstinence theory has obtained great popularity among those economists who are favourably disposed to interest. It seems to me, however, that this popularity has been due, not so much to its superiority as a theory, as that it came in the nick of time to support interest against the severe attacks that had been made on it. I draw this inference from the peculiar circumstance that the vast majority of its later advocates do not profess it exclusively, but only add elements of the Abstinence theory in an eclectic way to other theories favourable to interest.14

Since Böhm-Bawerk was not above such a critique of his own predecessors, we have no obligation to spare him similar treatment, from an excess of chivalry.

It is remarkable, at least, how the cultural atmosphere of the classical liberal mainstream changed from the early nineteenth century on. From a revolutionary assault on the entrenched power of the landed aristocracy and chartered monopolies, by the late nineteenth century it had become an apology for the institutions and interests most closely resembling, in power and privilege, the ruling class of the Old Regime: the large corporations and the plutocracy.

The shift toward reaction was by no means uniform, however. The revolutionary and anti-privilege character of the early movement continued in many strands of liberalism. Thomas Hodgskin, squarely in the classical liberal tradition and also by far the most market-oriented of the Ricardian socialists, criticized the power of the industrial capitalist in language reminiscent of Adam Smith's attack on landlords and mercantilists--and on very much the same principles.

The American school of individualist anarchism, likewise, turned the weapons of free market analysis against the statist props of capitalist privilege. Even Hodgskin's disciple Spencer, usually regarded as a stereotypical apologist for capitalism, at times displayed such tendencies. Henry George and his follower Albert Nock, likewise, turned classical liberalism toward radically populist ends. Our own version of free market socialism, set out in this book, comes from these heirs of the armed doctrine of classical liberalism.

At any rate, regardless of their political motivations, the marginalists performed a necessary role. Their detailed critique of classical political economy pointed out many areas in need of clarification, or of a more explicit philosophical basis. And the marginalist critique, especially that of Böhm-Bawerk, produced genuinely valuable innovations which any viable labor theory of value must incorporate. One such criticism (Böhm-Bawerk's critique of the labor-theory for its lack of an adequate mechanism), and one innovation (the Austrian time preference theory) will be integrated, in the following chapters, into a reworked labor theory of value.


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