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America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Walmart: Yea or Nay?

Good discussion about Walmart going on over at Austro-Athenian Empire, one of my favorite places to hang out on the Net. Have a look. We don't know exactly how things would be in a laissez-faire economy, but I tend to think big companies like Walmart have a corporate-state advantage over smaller and yet-to-be-founded companies. I don't care that Walmart might look the same in a free(d) market. What matters is why it is in its current state. If a billionaire made his money through state advantage, no libertarian would say, "It doesn't matter because a guy that smart would be a billionaire in the free market anyway."

1 comment:

Stephan Kinsella said...

I posted a detailed reply here:

I had written: “I don’t disagree with most of this–but in this case, how does the critique differ from a standard libertarian one that opposes subsidies and regulations? How does it get the conclusion (that some left-libs have) that walmart is therefore not the owner of its property, and is subject to vandalism or “worker sitins” and the like?”

Sheldon Richman:
“Stephan, did Roderick say the sort of things you mention in your last sentence? What I get from my analysis is a caution against rhapsodizing about Walmart as some sort of hero of the free-market revolution.”
There have been dozens of posts about this issue previously (see the end of this post for a collection of some). If you recall, there were a bunch of hooligan “anarchists” throwing bricks at Macy’s windows during the Republican Convention in Minessota. Some left-libertarians defended this on the grounds that Macy’s is just a big corporation and not “the real” owner of its stores–as if this means that the hooligans are! Others make similar arguments re worker sit-ins of factories when they are laid off. When I and others pointed this out, and how horrible this view is, several of the intellectual left-libertarians chimed in on the discussion. IIRC, Long and Carson never explicitly said that the brick throwers were wrong on the grounds they were violating property rights of Macy’s. IIRC, they said things like, they don’t think the brick throwing is a good idea–but, again, if memory serves, they seemed to studiously avoid making the implicit or explicit claim that Macy’s owned its property and therefore the brick-throwing was criminal and wrong. Now, they are free to correct me if I’m wrong. But that is my recollection.

yes–see links below: http://aaeblog.com/2008/09/09/say-what/comment-page-2/#comments Roderick wrote: “I certainly don’t favour hurling rocks at Macy’s windows — whether or not Macy’s turns out to be a legitimate target. Even if a target is legitimate, I think that’s only a necessary condition, not a sufficient one; violence against an aggressor has to have some practical relation to combating the aggression, for one thing. … I should add that I consider that a constraint of justice, not just of prudence. … Assuming Macy’s isn’t the owner, then by 1960s Rothbardian standards it’s not unowned, it’s owned by its current users (= the workers). That would seem to make the breakage morally problematic!”
Roderick is not in favor of it. But he holds open the possibility that Macy’s is not a legitimate property owner–even if he doesn’t think this justifies throwing rocks, it does justify it for some. Now he does not say they are not legitimate–he just says it’s possible. I agree: it’s possible. but who has the burden of proof: I say: those who advocate it. Until they satisfy it I will assume they are legitimate owners and that vandalism is criminal/trespass. It’s the *libertarian* position to take.

Carson wrote in that thread: “even when a corporation can be demonstrated to derive most of its profit from state action, and to be a legitimate target for worker homesteading, random smashing of windows strikes me as incredibly idiotic. If Macy’s falls into the category of legitimate targets, the proper response for those of us on the outside is to support the store’s workers against its management. As Malatesta noted long ago, it is stupid for workers to destroy the means of production.”
So, Carson thinks it’s “idiotic” to throw bricks, but again, he too does not say it’s trespass of a violation of Macy’s rights. Maybe it violates the “workers’” rights, since they, I suppose are the true owners.
In the same thread, Brad Spangler wrote: “Regarding “…I certainly don’t favour hurling rocks at Macy’s windows”. Neither do I. I think it’s a poor choice of tactics. I just disagree about the assertion that it’s a moral issue deserving of condemnation. I see the legitimacy of property claims by major corporations as doubtful for a variety of reasons. Lacking a legitimate owner, destruction of such unowned material (which doesn’t even qualify as property) is not even violence.”

HEre: http://bradspangler.com/blog/archives/1043

one Darian W says: “I’m personally not hostile toward Macy’s but I can’t say I’m offended their window was broken.”
Nicolo del fiume: in response to my comment: “I’m talking about those breaking windows the other day. I thought you were justifying it and saying Macy’s is the enemy, etc.” he wrote: “I am saying that. I don’t at all sympathize with Macy’s. It’s a capitalist company that receives subsidies in the form of tax breaks over competitors, trade barriers, etc. … They have been known for using coercive tactics to break up unions, but they aren’t the only ones doing that, God knows. I agree, I simply don’t sympathize with Macy’s and that their window is broken doesn’t really sadden me. I could even call it fair, on some levels.”
And this is my concern. My concern is that when Carson et al. make statements like Macy’s or Walmart or anything big or anything corporate could not exist in a free market, the next step (taken by some, at least) is, well, then they are not legitimate owners NOW of their property, and they are fair game for vandalism, sitins, etc. If they merely want to say, hey, Macy’s is the owner of its property but ought not be getting or lobbying for state subsidies or regulations, then I would agree.

In this thread: http://polycentricorder.blogspot.com/2008/09/man-and-his-window.html one lefty wrote: “”Wanton window smashing is stupid and certainly useless if not harmful (see Crimethinc for its “defense”, I won’t bother relaying it). But let’s not pretend even for a f*cking instant that braking these windows violated anyone’s liberty or capacity. Or EVEN that breaking windows was a particularly “violent” act! Is pouring fake blood over draft records violent? It certainly does far more expensive damage.”"
Sheldon goes on:
“Identifying the moral status of a corporate-state creature is easier than determining what action toward it is legitimate.”
But you are mixing things together here: is it corporate status alone that is the problem–or receiving or lobbying for state subsidies and benefits? Because the latter is what Roderick focused on–not the corporate form. And anyone, including leftist individuals, can benefit from, and indeed lobby for, state subsidies and the like. So what has the corporate status to do with this?

In my view, the attack on “vulgar libertarians” by Carson is attacking a strawman. Sure, there is some truth to it when it comes to some Randians, but even they grant that modern corporations and businessmen are wrong to be pro-state etc. And I myself have stopped using the term “capitalist” as a synonym for libertarianism, due in part to arguments by some left-leaning libertarians. But any sensible libertarian realizes that we have a quasi-fascist system now, and that we are opposed to all the political things the left-libertarians rail against. Where we differ, as far as I can tell, is on (a) our preferences–they seem to yearn for some agrarian, Shire-like past with no international or national trade, localism, no Marxian alienation of workers from their “labor,” blah blah blah–hey, man, whatever floats your boat, but that ain’t libertarianism; (b) our predictions: they seem to predict kibbutzes and self-sufficient basket-weaving hobbies, growing your own vegetables, knowing your pharmacist, doctors making housecalls, whatever–who cares?; (c) views on the legitimacy of companies employing the corporate form–many of them are against “bigness” and/or (?they are never clear) the corporate form; and (d) the political implications of the preceding–some apparently think it implies that modern corporations are “therefore” not property owners, and thus anything goes against them (even if they think it’s not “prudent” or whatever to do this now).

Brad Spangler:
“@Stephan - re: “How does it get the conclusion (that some left-libs have) that walmart is therefore not the owner of its property…”
“You’re here asking Sheldon to advocate a position that might not necessarily be his own.”
If it’s not his own, then we don’t have any disagreement, and his post, and Roderick’s, are trivial, since any libertarian agrees with these mundane observations.
“You may recall that I previously asked you to articulate a libertarian standard of guilt that you specifically subscribe to which recognizes a point at which the nominally private enterprise is in fact the actually statist appendage of the state. Without which, one could (for example) perhaps incorrectly say Lech Walesa was not being virtuous when he hopped that first fence to lead a Solidarnosc strike against the Polish state owned shipyard that was not necessarily *identical* to the Polish state (in the eyes of Polish law, anyway).
“You refused to articulate such a standard, apparently opting to confuse the matter of the burden of proof lying with Walmart’s accusers with the matter of simply inquiring as to whether or not you already agree with the existing Rothbardian standard (which one ought to be able to suppose you’ve been exposed to previously). That standard was most explicitly stated in “Confiscation and the Homestead Principle”, but was basically illustrated in principle in “For A New Liberty” and “Ethics of Liberty”.”
For those libertarians who refuse to acknowledge property rights of some people or firms, they are in effect advocating violence against these people. The burden of proof, and the burden of argumentation, is on them, not me. My default position is indeed the libertarian one: I am opposed to violence prima facie; and remain opposed to it unless it can be found to be justified. Since I”m a libertarian, that means I’m opposed to prima facie aggression, interpersonal violence, unless you can show that it’s basically defensive or retaliatory–unless you can clearly show that the victim of the violence is really a criminal or not the owner of the property you are taking from him. And excuse me, but I don’t think mundane observations such as that Walmart should not receive or lobby for subsidies, or that Walmart ships things on–gasp–public roads–satisfies that burden of proof or argumentation. If you do, then you have a lower threshold for justifying violence than I do.

“Rothbard drew the line at half of enterprise revenue coming from statist privilege / favors / subsidies.”
I don’t know if I agree with this, but even if I do, no one has come close to showing Walmart or Macy’s are in this camp, and I seriously doubt they could. The claim seems ludicrous to me.
“I’m going to side with Sheldon here. I think there is plenty of evidence of Walmart getting an inordinate amount of benefit from various state subsidies. Clearly in a freed market, that would be quite different. They may be bigger, but I suspect they would be smaller.”
So what? Some of this is trivially, obviously true; the rest is just wild-ass guessing, and utterly irrelevant. Its own relevance would be to justify declaring them to be basically criminals so that they are not property owners, so as to justify looting or vandalizing their property–and these off-the-cuff armchair observations do not justify this, so what is the point?
“Up here in Canada, in Ontario at least, Walmart is notorious for asking for an getting tax breaks,”

” the lifting of zoning restrictions and the building of roads in exchange for opening a Walmart in a particular location. If they don’t get their way, they often go to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB, the developer’s best friend) and get it anyway.”
“No one is saying that Walmart and other big box stores wouldn’t exist in a free market or are incompatible with a free market.”
Maybe not, but what some are saying is that they are not legitimate property owners, that they are essentially criminal, or “part of the state”–and therefore, that it’s not a crime to vandalize or loot or squat on their property.
Other posts:

Left-Libertarians on Corporations “Expropriating the Efforts of Stakeholders” http://blog.mises.org/archives/009070.asp

Long on the Corporation

Left Anarchists and Progressive Taxation

Down with anti-market “anarchists”

VAndarchists rejoice!


The Conflation Conflict

Say What?


(here, Roderick says, in response to my “only 3/5, say, of the economy is subject to vandalizing?”: “My point is that Halliburton and the Gnu’s Room are each a clear case; Macy’s, by contrast, isn’t close enough to either side to be a clear case, and reasonable libertarians can disagree about it.” and “I certainly don’t favour hurling rocks at Macy’s windows — whether or not Macy’s turns out to be a legitimate target. Even if a target is legitimate, I think that’s only a necessary condition, not a sufficient one; violence against an aggressor has to have some practical relation to combating the aggression, for one thing.”)

(In this thread, Geoff Plauche had some very good criticisms of the lax standards employed by Carson and even Long in this regard.)
Spangler: Reindeer games at the Mises Institute

Limited Liability, Paleo-libertarianism, Left-Libertarianism: Recent Posts and Debates

Left-Libertarians on Corporations “Expropriating the Efforts of Stakeholders”

Enemies of what state?

Mutualism, Localism, Free Trade, Multi-National Enterprises

In which little heads pop up for air

Re: Dyslexic Vandarchists of the World–Untie!

Left Anarchists and Progressive Taxation

Kinsella on the Chicago Sit-in: “Shoot ‘em”

Mutualist Comments on IP

Down with anti-market “anarchists”


A Man and his Window