The Network Economy as New Mutualism

What kinds of economic arrangements does anarchism, as such, want? An old question given new vitality in an age in which networks of autonomous individuals and groups have become more and more relevant and difficult for overlords in capital and in the state to control. In many ways, the new economy of networks, horizontal and decentralized, is the quintessence of the ideas of anarchists such as Benjamin Tucker, who thought that free competition would be “perfect” enough to wipe out profit in exchange, rent on land, and interest on lent credit. That is because monopolization, the source of these kinds of exploitative income, is rendered impossible (or nearly so) by an economy in which a PC and relatively little capital can make each individual her own capitalist business (See Kevin Carson‘s The Homebrew Industrial Revolution and The Desktop Regulatory State). We simply no longer need our overseers. We can employ Josiah Warren’s Cost Principle as a tool for analyzing the network economy and the kinds of hopes we may have for it as libertarians.

Tucker in particular constantly reiterated his position that if the Cost Principle (which he regarded as the definitive principle of socialism and which would necessarily mean the absence of usury) could not be realized by libertarian means, by free competition and the demise of privilege, that it was not to be realized at all. In the individualist anarchist free market, people, credit and resources would move so freely and fluidly, price signals would become so timely and clear, that before long selling goods or services significantly above cost would be rendered impossible. (Few free market libertarians of today share Tucker’s antipathy to “usury,” as such, but many now share his view of capitalism, placing it in opposition to free markets and competition.) It was thus privilege, restrictions on competition of all kinds, that allowed a capitalist/monopolist class to underpay labor and to overcharge for their products. But new technologies and the networked economy they yield are making the monopolies of old impossible by leaving regulatory and legislative attempts to limit competition powerless.

As Yochai Benkler observes of “the effects of [the] networked information economy on individual autonomy,” individuals are more free to operate without the permission of the “powers that be,” outside of the proper channels — be they licensing boards, regulatory bodies, or established corporations. The effects on competition will be sweeping; for where once starting a new business, producing a product, etc., required an appeal to tribute-takers in government and in formalized, capitalist institutions, it has today become easier than ever to evade the reaches of those tollways. Similarly, Siva Vaidhyanathan argues that the emergence of the Internet and “the nature of distributed systems” themselves have brought with them their own culture or ideology. He invokes John Dewey’s notion of “habits of thought” to suggest that our new peer-to-peer reality has changed the way we think about everything from exchange to personal relationships. And we can perceive the ways that technology informs culture (and vice versa) all around us, back through history. The work of the Center for a Stateless Society’s Kevin Carson has demonstrated the effects of a subsidized American car culture on the overall economy, suffusing everything from suburban sprawl to distribution paths for consumer goods. Nothing about the present system was simply a foregone conclusion. Authority has impacted the technological ecosystem at every step of development, suppressed alternatives, and obliged the established economic powers.

Contrast authoritarian capitalism with the decentralized, horizontally-networked and -ordered free market presently materializing, one in which the effective exercise of power through hierarchy is less and less possible. Law professor Butler Shaffer uses the metaphor of “a giant centrifuge” to describe the current trend toward decentralization and away from the pyramidal structures of corporate and government power that we’ve had to date. With “vertically-structured” institutions in decline, being replaced by networks, society is “spinning increased decision-making authority and control into the hands of individuals.” Such was the vision of the individualist anarchists — if everyone had the ability to become a capitalist, that is, had equal access to the means of production, then exploitation would cease to be a significant source of individual wealth. Everyone would have to work for his keep, but since no one could exert the power of the state to create “class laws,” limiting competition, relatively equal exchange would obtain as the general rule. If the individualists criticized vulgar proponents of “laissez faire” for their inconsistencies, then they also (and even more strenuously) excoriated vulgar socialists for prescribing an absolute equality of material conditions, to be reached through the absolute authority of a central state. Remove coercive privilege, they argued, and whatever result prevailed would necessarily be the most just. Theirs was the ultimate “open source” economy, enabling each individual to enter into any economic endeavor she pleased, to contribute in any way, thereby occupying the margins on which capitalist profits rested. The Internet has thrown open those margins to the benefit of individuals and at the expense of established corporations who have used legislative and regulatory means to keep them closed.

The individualists, from Josiah Warren onward, shared amongst one another an enthusiasm for and desire to undertake experimentations within the economic realm, eschewing uniformity and doctrinaire declarations about what a free economy must be. Experimentation of the kinds they esteemed is of course a threat to the status quo, and thus to the organizations that depend upon and hope to perpetuate it. This is among the chief reasons why the propaganda of largeness, vertical integration and hierarchy have all but completely overtaken the conversation surrounding efficiency. Anarchists like Benjamin Tucker certainly were not hostile or opposed to largeness per se, in and of itself, and neither should we anarchists of today be. Still, Tucker gainsaid the claim that large scale production for a modern society would required huge accumulations and concentrations of capital. Anticipating the emancipation and empowerment of individuals that we’re witnessing today, Tucker wrote, “Processes are expected to become cheaper, more compact, and more easily manageable, until they shall come again within the capacity of individuals and small combinations.” He confidently looked forward to a reversal of the centralization and hierarchy he saw in his own day, which has arguably only been compounded in the hundred plus years since.

With the digitization of the economy generally, and its attending vulnerability and breakdown of monopoly rents, intellectual property has become increasingly important for the monopolist class as a safeguard of those rents. Pitted against the development of the new economy, intellectual property will be a last-ditch effort both for entrenched models in domestic economies and for established, developed nations in the global economy. Expansions of technology have made a post-scarcity world of abundance not only possible, but very likely to come to fruition at some stage in the future. Standing in the way, however, is the capitalist attempt to pen in that technology, which as an abstract thing contained in ideas must rely on increasingly draconian intellectual property measures. Scholars such as C. Ford Runge and Edi Defrancesco have done a great service in observing the analogy between the enclosure of common lands and the attempt to subject ideas — specifically “relating to genomics, computer software, and scientific data” — to monopoly ownership standards.

We are now approaching a breaking point, a culmination of long-unfolding trends that will witness the old forces of rigid hierarchy and centrality collide with the dynamism of the networked, freed market. Outcomes, wins and losses, will turn upon the fulcrum of the steps that we take as free, autonomous individuals to leverage and pry ever more open the cracks that we find in the old infrastructure. New currencies (giving life to the mutualistic notions of our anarchist forebears), new organization models, new definitions of liberty and community — all are issuing forth from technological developments of only very recent vintage. Because of its defining flexibility, anarchism is the thing to rise and meet what’s next.

You can help support C4SS by purchasing a zine copy of M. George van der Meer’s “The Network Economy as New Mutualism“.

flattr this!

Get Ready for the Second Issue of The Industrial Radical and Support C4SS

The second issue of The Industrial Radical is on its way to the printers and in anticipation the first issue has been made available as a free PDF.

You can support C4SS and get a hard copy of The Industrial Radical for only $7.00 through our partnership with the ALL Distro. You can also makes sure not to miss out on the second issue, or the third, by subscribing!

$7.00 for one issue. $4 for every additional issue. $14.00 for six months. $28.00 for a year.

The Industrial Radical is devoted to radical libertarian political and social analysis in the tradition of Benjamin Tucker’s 1881-1908 Liberty, Emma Goldman’s 1906-1917 Mother Earth, and Murray Rothbard’s 1965-1968 Left & Right.

For too long libertarians have treated market anarchism almost the way Scientologists treat Xenu, as an “esoteric doctrine” to which one is introduced only after one has thoroughly assimilated some more moderate form of libertarianism — as though anarchism were an impediment rather than an asset in making the case for liberty.

Of course this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: potential converts find anarchism off-putting because they don’t know what it is, and they don’t know what it is because we avoid explaining it. In fact market anarchism can and should be one of libertarianism’s greatest selling-points, highlighting a radical and inspiring alternative to the present system rather than some variant of economic conservatism. It’s time to put market anarchism front and center in our educational efforts, time to start making it a familiar and recognizable position — while at the same time continuing to educate ourselves and exploring new horizons in market anarchist thought.

The Industrial Radical does not impose a party line; we welcome discussion and vigorous debate from all quarters, and in particular from other anarchists and radical libertarians from the left and from the right.

  • Purchase titles at individual prices, $7.00 per issue.
  • Or get our full print run: 1 Anarchist Classics zines for $7.00 (or only $4.00 when you order multiples).

flattr this!

Support C4SS with ALL Distro’s “Repudiation Now”

C4SS has teamed up with the Distro of the Libertarian Left. The Distro produces and distribute zines and booklets on anarchism, market anarchist theory, counter-economics, and other movements for liberation. For every copy of ALL Distro’s “Repudiation Now” that you purchase through the Distro, C4SS will receive a percentage. Support C4SS with ALL Distro’s “Repudiation Now”.

$1.00 for the first copy. $0.75 for every additional copy.

These three articles raise a challenge against the inter-national system of debt and the crippling burden inflicted by neoliberal debt policies and financial institutions on people who should not be shaken down for even one dime of the oligarchs’ power-trips and “development” policies. A liberated society means a society where no-one is forced to pay off debts for political capitalists, and the only humane, or even sane, demand is total and unconditional Repudiation Now.

“We have not acquired any debt. The so-called public debt really belongs to the oligarchy. We the peoples have not acquired anything or been benefited, and thus we owe nothing. . . .” — Confederation of Ecuadorian Kichwas

“Their main function is to work in collusion with the World Bankto run up debt building the infrastructure foreign capital needs for profitable investment. A majority of World Bank loans have gone to building the roads and utilities necessary to support foreign-owned industry. The effect is to crowd out decentralized, small-scale, locally-owned industry serving local markets, and to integrate the domestic economy into a neoliberal framework of providing raw materials and labor for foreign industry. . . .” — Kevin Carson

“So-called ‘public debt’ is, of course, never contracted by ‘the public’(if that means all the people of a particular country); it is contracted by a tiny, parasitic minority that lives at the expense of the rest of the public, and which has arbitrarily declared itself the rightful rulers and the designated collective-bargaining agents of everybody else in the country — whether or not anybody else ever agreed to that arrangement. When banks or foreign governments loan money to a government, they loan it to that tiny, parasitic minority, and they do so with the expectation that their ‘investment’ will be repaid by means of taxation, which is to say, by means of the money that the government extracts from ‘the public’ by force. None of the rest of us are ever asked to take on these debts; none of us are ever given any meaningful choice over whether to take on these debts, or how to disburse the money that has been loaned to ‘us;’ we are just made to pay them against our will. . . Whatever the would-be governors of Ecuador may owe, the people of Ecuador owe not one damned dime to the World Bank, the IMF, CitiBank, or any other lender.” — Charles Johnson

flattr this!

Support C4SS with ALL Distro’s “To Grow a Free Society”

C4SS has teamed up with the Distro of the Libertarian Left. The Distro produces and distribute zines and booklets on anarchism, market anarchist theory, counter-economics, and other movements for liberation. For every copy of ALL Distro’s “To Grow a Free Society” that you purchase through the Distro, C4SS will receive a percentage. Support C4SS with ALL Distro’s “To Grow a Free Society”.

$2.00 for the first copy. $1.50 for every additional copy.

This booklet brings together a short conversation on Anarchism and Socialism, Liberty and Equality that appeared in columns and correspondence in the pages of the anarchist-communist newspaper FREE SOCIETY in January – April of 1902. The Tennessee Anarchist Ross Winn (part of the Free Society editorial staff) and frequent contributor A. LeRoy Loubal open with intriguing developments of the ideal of individual liberty, individual economic independence and common, co-operative wealth without voting, elections, the “central hand” of institutional machinery, or political government. In the central essay, the Denver state-socialist and feminist Celia B. Whitehead challenges them for their plans for achieving equality without institutionalized government, asking, “How Will a Free Society Come, and How Will It Operate?” In three replies, Winn, Loubal, and the Denver feminist-Anarchist Albina L. Washburn each offer a different vision, one rooted in education and voluntary cooperation, one in resistance and decentralization, and one in mutualism and a strategy of counter-economics.

“IT SIMPLY CANNOT BE, AND THAT IS PRECISELY WHY I AM AN ANARCHIST. I do not believe that any scheme of government can be devised under the operation of which the interest of all would be subserved. This is because each individual must live his own life, and pursue his happi­ness in his own way. To the extent that men and women are left free to pursue their ideals and to follow their natural bent are they satisfied and friction is avoided. The strife and dissension in society, in every instance, is the outcrop­ping of the spirit of authority. I want for every man, woman, and child the right to govern themselves, to direct their own affairs, to live their own lives. There­ fore I have no use for the government official. . . .” — Ross Winn.

“INDIVIDUALS CREATE WEALTH AND INDIVIDUALS SHOULD ENJOY IT. Commonwealth as an institution would enslave the individual, yet I would have wealth in common. . . . I believe that liberty and equality will usher in a fraternity that will annihilate commercialism and the greed of gain. With the land and opportunity free, the laborer will no longer work for others, but supply his own needs with his labor. With the wonderful facilities for manufacturing, the immense aids inventive genius has placed at our disposal, but usurped by government agents, every man could be independ­ent, and the fear of poverty would be unknown, the incentive to accumulate wealth for any other purpose than use, would be gone. Rent, interest, and profit would pass away. . . . When competition dies, emulation will survive. When men labor for the love of their works, art and beauty will be in evidence.

“BUT THE ‘ANARCHISTS HAVE NOT SEEMED TO ME TO PRESENT any plan of action.’ Well, the governmental plan has been proposed by a good many parties, but wherever and however tried has completely failed. The Anarchist has no ‘plan of action’ to force men into some regime. They ad­vocate liberty, and liberty cannot exist under regime. . . . It is an institution, a centralized organization, that is to say, individuals are going to be organs to be moved by a central hand. . . Now what of Anarchism, or absolute liberty? ‘But who would operate the machinery.’ What could be operated by individuals or the cooperation of individuals for individual interests would be preserved; the rest would not. Decentralization would be the plan or plain of Anarchism.” — A. LeRoy Loubal.

“IN ORDER SET ASIDE A GOVERNMENT, THE WAY TO ABOLISH IS TO ABOLISH; not by a furious onslaught of opposition, of money, party, guns, and power, but simply by letting alone. . .” — Albina L. Washburn.

Free Society (1895–1904), originally The Firebrand, was one of the leading English-language Anarchist newspapers in the united states during the “first wave” anarchist movement in the late 19th and early 20th century. Operating as a “comrades’ paper,” and featuring poetry, letters, movement news, theoretical debates and short fiction, the paper brought together voices from communist, mutualist and individualist Anarchist tendencies, featuring the work of writers such as C. L. James, Voltairine de Cleyre, Ross Winn, Kate Austin, James F. Morton Jr., E. C. Walker, Mary Hansen, Helena Born, Lizzie Holmes, and Michael Cohn, among many others.

The text is based on scans of pages from Free Society, vol. IX, available online through the Fair Use Repository’s digital archive. The cover is based on an 1873 design for the “Tulip and Willow” indigo-discharge wood-block print by William Morris, made available online through Wikipedia.

flattr this!

Support C4SS with ALL Distro’s “No Copyright”

C4SS has teamed up with the Distro of the Libertarian Left. The Distro produces and distribute zines and booklets on anarchism, market anarchist theory, counter-economics, and other movements for liberation. For every copy of ALL Distro’s “No Copyright” that you purchase through the Distro, C4SS will receive a percentage. Support C4SS with ALL Distro’s “No Copyright”.

$1.00 for the first copy. $0.75 for every additional copy.

These four articles include provocative looks at the copyrighting of digital culture and the rising global struggle against it. “Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto” is the work of Aaron H. Swartz (1986–2013), a young brilliant hacker and information-justice activist driven to suicide in January 2013 by a long campaign of abuse by an out-of-control federal prosecutor. Additional essays include “Thoughtcrime” (2003) by market anarchist philosopher Roderick T. Long, the“Crypto Anarchist Manifesto” (1994) from the Cypherpunks FAQ, and the memorial “Aaron Swartz and Intellectual Property’s Bitter-Enders” (2013) by Thomas L. Knapp.

“Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves. The world’s entire scientific and cultural heritage, published over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked up by a handful of private corporations. . . . Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at Google to read them? Providing scientific articles to those at elite universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It’s outrageous and unacceptable. ‘I agree,’ many say, ‘but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights, and it’s perfectly legal – there’s nothing we can do to stop them.’

“But there is something we can do: we can fight back. . . . It’s called ‘stealing’ or ‘piracy,’ as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral – it’s a moral imperative. . . . There is no justice in following unjust laws.

“We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share them with the world. We need to take the stuff that’s out of copyright and add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need to fight for Guerrilla Open Access. . . .”

flattr this!

Support C4SS with ALL Distro’s “The Question of Copyright”

C4SS has teamed up with the Distro of the Libertarian Left. The Distro produces and distribute zines and booklets on anarchism, market anarchist theory, counter-economics, and other movements for liberation. For every copy of ALL Distro’s “The Question of Copyright” that you purchase through the Distro, C4SS will receive a percentage. Support C4SS with ALL Distro’s “The Question of Copyright”.

$2.00 for the first copy. $1.50 for every additional copy.

These selections from the “Property in Ideas” debate, taken from the pages of Benjamin Tucker’s Liberty (1890–1891), include provocative essays on property, anarchy, equal liberty and copyright from some of the leading individualist Anarchists of the 19th century. Includes articles by Benjamin Tucker, Victor Yarros, J. William Lloyd, Tak Kak, A. H. Simpson, John Beverley Robinson, and William Hanson.

“My understanding of my environment is my idea of it. . . . Everything that I understand I discover, just as much as the first man who understood it and discovered it. . . . I must discover it for myself. My understanding of another’s idea, as before shown, is not his idea, but my own, and my discovery of his discovery is original discovery so far as I am concerned, no matter how many thousand times discovered by others before. So, if original discovery gives exclusive right to copy, very well, all discovery is original; all understanding is original discovery for the individual making it, and beyond the individual we, as egoistic Anarchists, have no need to go. . . .

“Do I, then, deny copyright? Yes and no. I deny false, legal copyright, which is the privilege of the first man who exercises his faculties in discovery or production to forbid others to imitate without permission. This is really not copyright, but the invasion of true copyright, which is the inalienable right of every man to copy whatever he pleases if he can, a part of that complete natural liberty of the inoffensive for which we An­archists persistently stand. That there is no offence in copying is proved by the simple fact that, even if I think a thought similar to the thought of my fellow, he is not thereby at all prevented from thinking it; if he copies my hoe, he does not by so doing take away my hoe, or prevent my using it, or making as many as I please like it. This consideration alone is all­sufficient to make true Anarchists endorse free copyright, inasmuch as all action not invasive is truly free and justifiable.

“Legal copyright, patent-right, is only one form of that hydra headed monopoly which is reducing us all to slavery. This is the true copyright, my right and your right to copy and reproduce everything our senses comprehend; anything less than this stops human growth and blocks the wheels of progress. If I am free to copy all men’s thoughts and deeds, I am a man among men; if I may do freely only that which I am first to do, I am a pauper or a slave. . . .” — J. William Lloyd, “Copyright”

flattr this!