“Anarcho”-Capitalism: The Boss’s and Landlord’s Paradise

Continuing the discussion I began here and continued here, in this installment, I present for your consideration more of the debate I participated in nearly a decade ago over the inherent contradiction in the term “anarcho”-capitalism.

I should say a little more about why this debate remains relevant. If you listen to the rhetoric of some of the “intellectuals” in the Republican party, you will hear echoes of “anarcho”-capitalism’s sacred principles: private property is a natural right; the state is an impediment to freedom; taxation is theft; freedom to associate with persons of one’s choosing is a natural right. Ron Paul‘s Ten Principles of a Free Society almost reads like a Ten Commandments for anarchos. It’s not surprising given that Paul is a Libertarian and “anarcho”-capitalism is also a product of Libertarian philosophizing, is, in fact, Libertarianism taken over the side of the slippery slope. Paul and his son Rand are far from the only Libertarianism-espousing politicians in power. One other very powerful Libertarian  in the Republican party is Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, whose budget aims to dump social welfare programs from the government’s repertoire of services for the citizenry. These ideas are as close as they’ve ever been to  America’s power center. Are we all comfortable with that?

This is not a complete, whole argument I present here. Rather it represents the elements of one that I will return to in future posts. Consider the fragments in these posts dabs of paint on my pallet. I would appreciate comments or questions from anyone as they always help me to sharpen my thinking.

A reminder: Angle brackets (<< >>) within a paragraph signal that it’s a quote from one of my opponents. The original debate on Usenet can be found here, and, again, my arguments were made under the handle “xofpi.”

<<>I don’t see how the left-anarchists can co-opt the word that way–By >definition, an anarchist is someone who wants no government (and >that’s from the anarchist theory FAQ). >>

I’ll bet that was Bryan Caplan’s “anarchist” FAQ, right? Well real anarchists object to Caplan’s dictionary definition on the basis of the fact that anarchism–real historical anarchism–has been opposed not just to *government* but to *arbitrary authority* from its beginnings in the Romantic era after the French Revolution. This makes it squarely anti-capitalist. If you want capitalism, someone has to rule. You can have anarchy and you can have capitalism, but you cannot have “anarcho”-capitalism. It is a self-contradiction.

I’ve explained the self-contradiction: capitalism requires property, which requires a controlling legal authority to legitimize it. Anarchy is by definition anti-capitalist because it is against controlling legal authorities of any kind. “Private law,”  which is the legalistic crutch of “anarcho”-capitalists, is a dead giveaway that proprietarians, as they should properly be called, are not anarchists.

If people choose to act out master-slave relationships because both parties come to their roles by free choice and not out of economic compulsion, there’s absolutely no harm in it. But if one comes to a dominated position, not by free choice but out of economic necessity, that results in harm. Right “libertarians” call it “initiation of force,” though they don’t recognize that a system that benefits some more than others yet compels everyone to play by these asymmetrical rules, may, by being compulsory, be considered “force.”

The difference between possession and private property, in real anarchism, is the difference between use and usury. Real anarchists believe that what a person uses, a person possesses. This means that landlords, who by and large do not use their buildings, would not possess their buildings, let alone *own* them. Thus, in real anarchism, there would be no landlords.

<<>> I’ve explained the self-contradiction: capitalism requires property, >> <<>How does it require property, it only requires “recognized possession” as >you call it.>>

No, because, as I explained above, possession is based on *use*, not on *title*. Capitalism doesn’t work without usury–charging others for the use of one’s property. Anarchism doesn’t work *with* usury.

The problem you will run into is when you try to rent property you don’t live on, or loan money or any other item expecting a profitable return for doing so. If there’s no controlling legal authority, why should anyone pay you for what you don’t use? Who’s to say “your” apartment building is “your” apartment building? Everything is fine if everyone kindly recognizes that you own the building they actually live in and use. But why should they recognize that if there’s no state or other authority to compel them to?

But you can’t deal with the basic fact that without government, your claim to your property is pure smoke. Yes you can defend your property with arms if you want to, but if someone comes along with bigger arms and takes it from you, who’s to stop them? Why should anyone stop them?

Right “libertarianism” values freedom to associate as one wishes without compulsion to associate with anyone one doesn’t want to associate with, right? So does it result in harm to liberty, on this view, if an “anarcho”-capitalist is compelled to serve in the military during wartime? After all, it’s not really *his* war he’s being compelled to fight, is it? This unfree association could even get him killed. On the other hand, he gets room and board, and if he isn’t killed, he may even get a college education, free health care and a housing loan when the Big One is done.

This, in my view, is almost exactly analogous to the worker-boss relationship. The only reason the worker is in it is that the system makes food and living very expensive. You are compelled to sell your labors to someone who is going to profit at your expense if you want to live. The buyer of labor is exploiting your *compulsion* to sell your labor. This is such an obvious point, I’m always puzzled why proprietarians can’t get it. Then I realize that you guys think capitalism *has to be.* You guys think that working for another’s profit so you can shelter yourself and your family is a “natural” state of affairs, don’t you? Well, it isn’t. This state of affairs has only been around for a few hundred years.

<< I believe >in “no ruler” therefore I am an anarchist. >>

So what is the boss if not a ruler?

Government clearly precedes property. Possession, as I have talked about it, has been around as long as we have been around, and government has been around as long as humans have had language and communities. But private property is a much more recent phenomenon.

Obviously, any reasonable assessment of capitalism has to take into consideration that the system doesn’t work if there are no workers to hire. You can paint the relationship as rosy as you’d like, but it doesn’t change the fact that many, many workers–if not most–are not working because they were just dying to be doing what they are doing. They are working because if you don’t work in this system, you can’t eat, your family can’t eat, you can’t clothe yourself or your family, you can’t shelter your family.

It’s amazing how proprietarians gloss over this fact! It’s as though you all have a gigantic blindspot that makes you unable to see anything but your own rosy view of capitalism, unable to see what is fact for millions of people struggling through the real capitalism in the real world in front of your eyes. I consider this a programming defect and I don’t know how to help you compensate for it.

Let’s compare working for shelter in this society and in a “primitive” society. In this society, most likely you buy (which really means finance, for most people) or rent shelter that already exists. All the labor to construct it has been done; you just move into your home. While you may tinker with improvements or alterations to your shelter, you don’t have to labor to actually produce it. But very, very few people own their shelter outright. Most of us have to make monthly payments, either to a landlord or a bank, in order to remain living where we live. Most of us do not have deep pockets that allow us to make these payments on demand with no labor at all; we *have* to sell something we own or produce–for the vast majority, what we sell is our labor–in order to afford just the space we live in. Most of us work at least 37 hours a week, many work twice that much or more.

In primitive societies, you labor a few hours to produce the home and it is yours. Case closed.

6 thoughts on ““Anarcho”-Capitalism: The Boss’s and Landlord’s Paradise

  1. I fail to see any “contradiction” here. The fact that pro-property libertarians have definitions is not a contradiction. Nor does the causal relationship between government and property have any relavence to whether the two concepts can be seperated.

    We wouldn’t be a world of 6 billion people without markets, so many people would simply never have made it past infancy in a primitive society. The idea that pro-property theorists have painted too rosy a picture and ignored poverty is too vague to argue with. However, they’ve certainly spent a lot of time talking about the subject:


    • Do you understand what is meant by “anarcho”-capitalism? If you don’t understand what that means, it’s no wonder you fail to see a contradiction.

      There’s a difference between “pro-property” libertarians, or any run-of-the-mill libertarian, and the “anarchos.” The anarchos believe–falsely, I’ve tried to show–that they are anarchists. They are anti-state, they claim, but anarchism is opposed to any authority, including a) those that serve to legitimize private property, which anarchists fundamentally believe is theft from the commons, and b) those who exploit the labor of others for their own profit. “Anarcho”-capitalists believe in the fundamental legitimacy of property and in the right of an owner of a property to exploit it or profit from it however he or she sees fit. You can’t have “legitimacy” without law or a controlling legal authority, ie, without some form of state. That’s not anarchism.

      Does that help you see the inherent contradiction?

      • The ‘commons’ do not exist. Only individuals exist, and only individuals have rights. Property rights that is. The right to own your body and the fruits of your labor. You can obtain property by mixing your labour with previously unowned resources, voluntary trade or gifts. You have the natural right to defend yourself against personal attacks and theft, and you can ask people (either individuals or a protection agency) to help you. That is NOT a state or a government. If it were, than the same thing can be said about someone who tries to defend his possessions. I assume you do protect yourself, your family and your home, right? Therefore, claiming that anarcho-capitalism needs a state and anarchism doesn’t, is nonsense.

        A quote from you:
        “The difference between possession and private property in real anarchism, is the difference between use and usury. Real anarchists believe that what a person uses, a person possesses”

        So if you don’t use ‘your’ hammer, I can pick up and walk away with it?

        I really don’t understand you people. If you’ve worked your ass of and got something for it in return (money, or goods), than you simply own it, and that means you can do with it whatever you like (either use it, trade it, give it away or destroy it). How can anybody not agree with that?
        I do see that there are grey area’s. What constitutes property is not always clear-cut in every case. But I find ‘fruits of labour’ a much better rule of thumb than ‘use’.

        I do agree with you that anarcho-capitalism is an ambiguous term, since anarchism is traditionally linked with non-prioritarianism. But on the other hand, what’s in a name?
        I don’t know what the best word for my position is. I’m definitely a prioritarian, but that doesn’t cover it completely. Nor does voluntaryist, which I usually call myself.
        Watch this video for an overview: http://youtu.be/KXNRzI64L9Q
        Or read the transcript: http://www.jacobspinney.com/thestateisnotgreat.pdf

        Anyway, all the best!

        • Jan,

          Thanks very much for your thoughtful comments.

          I want to answer with a post, using your first two sentences as a springboard. Then I’ll come back and speak to your other points. Or perhaps I’ll do another post to explain my points on “property” and “possession” more fully.

          Again, thanks. And cheers!


  2. Pingback: The Commons and Individual Rights « Tragic Farce

  3. Pingback: Fruits of One’s Labor: Possession and Property, Use and Usury « Tragic Farce

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