This FAQ is meant as a way to further clarify our anti-property libsoc position and set aside capitalist objections. In our search for coherent propertarian arguments, we have encountered a number of objections which we are answering here in order to keep the quality of discourse high. But we emphasize that we have yet to encounter a single coherent propertarian argument as of this time.
This FAQ was written by Francois Tremblay and Noor Mehta.
Also see the articles Refuting "anarcho"-capitalism by means of "anarcho"-capitalism, Frequently Asked Questions about The Labor Theory of Value and The Myths of "Libertarian" Economics.
1. What constitutes usury, and why is it wrong?
Usury is the process by which an owner receives a constant sum of money or percentage of revenues from another person using their capital. Depending on the nature of the property that is loaned out, the name of the sum of money changes: interest (for money), rent (for land and buildings), profit (for means of production).
Usury is a claim to have a right to an indefinite stream of income from a finite amount of labor. The fundamental problem may not be so much the one act in itself, but rather the system that builds upon it– it is that system that allows for enormous power disparities and one class to abuse those. What happens is, a person can obtain a single plot of land, rent it out, use the rent money to buy another plot of land soon, rent that out, use the newly-doubled-income to buy more land and rent it out too, and expand the estate to the point where anyone nearby cannot own land and must labor under the landlord.
As the estate expands, the landlord continues abusing his power and increasing the domain of the power disparity. The landlord also maintains an authoritarian relationship with the tenants, insofar as he can increase the rent and they must labor harder to pay it. (Their only choice is to leave, but the costs of leaving almost always will outweigh the costs of submitting to the authoritarianism, and being free to leave is no justification for social authority.) As the landlord maintains a monopoly of ultimate power over the land, he can also enable statist programs and maintain statelike powers, all while he did not actually labor for the income from the rent. (The only labor he does is in the beginning while acquiring the land, but a finite amount of labor deserves a finite payment, not an indefinite flow of income.)
The landlord now is a central of wealth, and he is justified in using force to extract more from the laborers. (This would be the difference between this situation and an alternative where the tenant offers a one-time finite gift in exchange for use.) This also leads to the situation where the landlord now uses his power to make things his way– in a court case, he can easily bribe the judge and get away with it, or make the tenants serve as eyewitnesses to get the court to rule one way.)
A child born to a tenant would owe rent as he/she grows up on the estate, and the child's only other choice would be to leave, which resorts the whole situation to a very state-like one, the only possible difference being that the land was 'voluntarily' acquired. But libsocs do not believe the State can be justified if only it had acquired the land the 'right' way– rather, the State is wrong because power disparities are wrong and inherently violate liberty.
This situation demonstrates the scenario of renting, but the same law applies to profit and interest– allowing the privileged to abuse the power disparities to increase the domain of their power.
Alternatively, usury is predicated on the implicit belief that capital is in and of itself a productive force, and therefore the capital is somehow owed restitution which is then passed on to its owner in the form of interest/rent/profit. But money alone, land alone, or tools alone cannot produce anything, and they are only productive when they are being used by people. Therefore it is invalid to say that owners are owed usury, and since resources are limited, usury represents financial exploitation, which is morally wrong.
Usury is essentially demanding something for nothing, and the results are often very statist. In the landlord case, he owns a vast estate of land from all the renting, and under property-ownership he can make up any rules he wants and enforce them. He could also enable every single statist program for his 'tenants', such as Medicare, public schooling, Social Security, etc. while continuously extracting money from his tenants living on there, and caging them if they refuse to pay. If his tenants don't like something, their only option is to leave, and the "love it or leave it" problem remains.
1a. Some people will want to pay usury, and some won't, and that's just time preference.
Time preference (the belief that people put a greater value on present goods over future goods) may or may not explain why people will decide to pay usury. However, it does not provide a justification for the existence of usury. The distinction here is crucial; explaining how something came to be, which is a matter of historical record, and explaining how something is justified, which is a matter of economics or ethics (for example), is not at all the same thing. One can explain how, historically, the institution of slavery arose and was maintained throughout the ages, but these historical facts do not justify its continued existence today. Even though we can all agree that slavery has existed for ages, we also all agree that it must be eradicated.
Our position is not that usury does not exist, but rather that usury is illogical and unethical, and should be eradicated. This is not, therefore, a historical position, but an economic and ethical one.
2. No one's rights are being violated if the trade is mutually voluntary, so why would you interfere?
First, we must recognize that the answer to such a question depends on one's theory of rights (or if one believes in rights at all). But putting that aside, we must point out that the voluntary nature of an action is a necessary but not sufficient criterion of justice. For instance, hiring a hitman is a voluntary act, but obviously not a just one (committing the murder is obviously not voluntary, but one does not need to actually kill anyone to sign a contract). A landowner giving a low-paying, demanding job to the natives he kicked out by force is a voluntary act, but not a just one.
A problem with the "if you oppose something, you must advocate using coercion to stop it" line that is so frequently tossed around by the "anarcho"-capitalists, is that this line of reasoning seems a non-sequitur. The implication that advocating coercion is the only way to oppose something must be questioned. Most "anarcho"-capitalists will quite readily say they are opposed to paper money, but they would never use force against it. The same goes for libertarians and anarchists who are culturally leftist, i.e. an opposition to cultural authoritarianism does not necessitate using force.
Another perspective is that it's not so much about the immediate relationship between two individuals (which can often be consensual, just like the Constitution was consensual for the founding fathers) at hand, but rather the situations and systems that a right to continuous increase ends up justifying.
3. Why should I care about society?
Because society provides for the vast majority of our needs. The productive capacity of any given individual in any economic system represents nothing but a tiny sliver of the total productive capacity that goes towards any objective. One industry demands five others, which in turn demand ten others, and so on; and every individual must be clothed, fed, sheltered, entertained, and so on. In the larger view, we can say that for any person to produce requires a whole society. In that view, property rights make no sense, since the products of one individual are in fact the result of the activities of a whole society, without which the individual is very little.
This may be seen as an attack against individualism, but in fact it is quite the opposite, as society itself is nothing but organized association and cooperation between individuals. Thus, by demonstrating how utterly vital society is to the individual, we are in fact proving the necessity of social autonomy and individual freedom, as they are both the exact same thing.
4a. The Labor Theory of Value is complete bullshit. Value is subjective.
Here, we are faced with two competing theories of value: STV (subjective, where price is determined by offer and demand) and LTV (labour, where price is limited by cost). Arguments for STV always end up being circular: they posit that we must maintain STV because STV is valid or most used within our current system, therefore STV is the only valid theory. We reject such circularities as irrelevant, preferring to examine each on their own merits.
The socialist position is that STV is a purely arbitrary standard based on the perpetuation of usury and scarcity, i.e. how much people are ready to pay for a product, and how much profit a business can make from selling it. LTV, on the other hand, is based on a non-arbitrary, measurable, factual standard: the actual costs involved in making a given product, including labour time, that is to say the person's wage. Because LTV is based on facts, not on arbitrary evaluations, it is most adapted to an egalitarian system, while STV perpetuates exploitation by its very nature. That is why LTV is the linchpin of any egalitarian economic system.
Saying that "value is subjective" can mean one of two things: it can mean that the individual is ultimately the sole judge of what he desires to buy, or it can mean that the value of the product itself, taken apart from the individual buyer, must not be evaluated on the basis of facts. We accept the former statement, but not the latter. Obviously the individual is always in charge of deciding whether he wants to buy a given product, but there is no reason to posit that the value of that product must be adjusted based on desires instead of measurable facts.
"Cost the limit of price" is another restatement of the LTV. It means that the producer cannot demand a price for a product that is higher than its labor cost. A product that cost very little labor, cannot be rightfully sold at a considerably higher price. In a society with free-market competition, the customer will go with the cheapest, but quality products available. Fundamentally, what this boils down to, is that a person deserves to earn proportional to how much he/she labors.
4b. "Values are personal based on what a person acts towards, so they are passed on to the object, which therefore has a subjective value."
This is an attempt at equivocation on the word "value," trying to get people to conflate the object's value (a fact of economics, which is not relative to the individual) with the moral values that we judge are or could be furthered by it (a moral evaluation, which is necessarily relative to the individual). Personal values do not have any effect on changing or altering the facts about the object. Ironically, it is generally the proponents of STV who claim to be "objective," while they are the ones who confuse people's desires towards an object (their moral evaluation of the object) with the facts about an object.
4c. "In my interpretation, STV implies that there is no such thing as a value that belongs to the object. STV only talks about the values that we hold, which change in time."
Your truncated version of STV is entirely true, but also entirely irrelevant. The principle that our fluctuating needs modify our appreciation of things is an important moral principle but tells us nothing about economics (such as how products should be priced, which should be the main goal of any theory of value), and is entirely compatible with any economic ideology.
4d. "LTV cannot explain how objects change value over time, but they do."
Since we currently measure the value of objects using STV, the whole argument is circular– "STV is valid because values change subjectively, because that's how we currently measure them, and LTV can't explain that." In short, STV (as currently used) proves STV (the theory). As pointed out in question 4a, proponents of STV only have circular arguments in their defense.
5. Don't people deserve rewards for taking risks?
Yes, of course: but evaluating risks is not a special sort of work which somehow requires usury in order to be properly rewarded. In fact, in our capitalist system we already have wage labor which concerns itself with evaluating risk, such as that related to insurance, financial instruments, and the stock market. Like all other forms of work, risk assessment should be rewarded by a wage proportional to the time spent on it, adding costs when applicable.
6. Employee and rental agreements will always exist, because they can be more convenient.
No doubt they can be convenient for the property owners who make use of them and collect usury, but this does not erase the fact that they are illogical and therefore not valid contracts (see question 1). A property owner who lets others use his property for their own production is not owed any percentage of that production. While most mutualists are of the opinion that usury should not be eliminated but rather be phased out voluntarily, all agree that usury is undesirable and exploitative.
In short, such agreements may be moral, especially given our current economic system, but they are not ethical.
7a. Without interest, there'd be no reason for anyone to invest their money in a new business, and no new businesses will be created.
There are more ways to start a business than by waiting for an investor to grant people capital. The traditional anarchist method is for a group of people to pool their resources. Furthermore, an egalitarian society with LTV-limited prices and no rent would make starting a business less of a burden, making the investor-savior model less relevant.
It's also important to point out, once again, that our position is not that rewards should be eliminated. Investment should be rewarded by a proportional wage, like any other form of work. There is no inherent difference between risk-taking work, investment work, and any other kind of work.
7b. "Interest rates tell producers what should go towards capital goods or consumer goods."
See above. A far better signal would be consumer demand and desires, which producers always have to guess anyway.
8. People are going to have varying degrees of success, and the only way to remove those is coerced redistribution of wealth.
Libsocs do not want to take away people's success. We merely reject the belief that any person's work is owed more than its full and equal share. Libsocs do not believe in imposing a specific egalitarian outcome, but rather believe that a just and fair economic system will in itself necessarily bring about the most desirable outcomes.
9. Inequality is inevitable in a world with scarcity.
There is no direct relation between the amount of a good and its distribution. A good may be extremely scarce but widely distributed, or exist in great quantities but be hoarded by a few. In an egalitarian society, inequality is never inevitable, no matter how much or little of a good exists.
Besides, the inequality that libsocs criticize is inequality of authority/power/privilege. By 'authority' no one opposes it in the sense of 'being an authority' (as in a doctor being an authority over medicine), but rather 'having authority' (over others) in the social sense.
'Property' as used here refers to the kind of ownership that allows for accumulation of wealth through usury, which is tied in with the 'stickiness' and 'ultimate decision-making power' attributes.
10. Aren't property rights necessary for a free market?
This question hinges on one's definition of freedom. To the capitalist, unilateral and total control over one's own land means that he is free. But we accept this belief in unilateral and total control over land no more than we accept the State's unilateral and total control over land. Both are based on excluding and exploiting those who need the property to work or live and have no control over it.
Freedom, in the general anarchist view, cannot exist without the elimination of hierarchies and relations of dominance. But usury, which is a necessary component of property rights, implies that within the market there is a certain class of people (property owners) who have more rights than others, based on invalid premises, and may therefore form a hierarchy with themselves as the superiors. Therefore there is no "free market" here. A free market is necessarily egalitarian, since freedom and equality are merely two sides of the same coin.
All that's needed for market exchange is some kind of ownership, and possession works for that. The right to usury that comes with property is not necessary for market trades.
11. What are you going to do when I claim something to be my property? Doesn't your position necessarily imply coercion?
Typically, "anarcho-capitalists" believe that the only possible consequence to being against a process or mechanism is to advocate its eradication by coercion. This is the result of a "might makes right" mentality: if one has the "right values," one must therefore use might to impose one's values on others. But we do not believe that anyone has the "right values," let alone that any truth deserves to be imposed by force (coercion is, obviously, the enemy of truth-seeking and its best deterrent). We believe that, as people come back to the fundamental idea that everyone is equally worthy of consideration and that we should all be responsible for our actions towards each other, they will rightly see property claims as an attempt to control others. In a mutualist court, such claims would simply be rejected for being logically invalid.
We can make a comparison with intellectual property. When ancaps oppose intellectual property, they are not advocating using coercion to end an IP contract. If someone wants to claim their ideas as their own and cut off anyone else, an ancap will reject the contract as invalid, but refrain from using force to end it. The contract would simply be viewed as invalid if it came up in a court case.
12. Property is not a social construct. It is an extension of the self.
These are actually two separate issues. Whether given objects are or are not an extension of the self does not indicate the type of ownership that we hold over them, just like the fact that our relationships with others are extensions of ourselves does not indicate the type of relationships that they are. And in fact the analogy works in the same way, since the types of relationships we experience towards other people are social constructs, and yet those relationships are extensions of the self. There is no contradiction between the two positions.
This view also implies some sort of metaphysical 'natural law.' But for example, if this 'natural law' states that performing 'labor' on an un-owned object or land, then we must question what constitutes 'labor.' Is it my bit of land f I rub my shoe on it for a few seconds? Very few would say so, and this is because no one else around you would recognize it as such. What constitutes 'labor' is up to society, and thus this means the very basis of ownership is a social construct to avoid conflicts between individuals, and not a 'natural law.'
13. Property is necessary due to scarcity of resources, for individuals living together in society.
In fact, the exact opposite is true. There is not much harm to be done by hoarding resources that are non-scarce: one may claim property over some of the Sun's rays, or some of the air, and he should merely be seen as petty. But someone who claims property over scarce resources, instead of mere possession, is setting himself up as everyone else's enemy. He breaks his link to the whole of social activity when there is no reason for him to do so.
14. Possession is no different from property.
Property is the absolute right to enjoy and dispose of a given object, the "ultimate decision-making power" over that object, as long as it doesn't interfere with other people's absolute and ultimate power over their own objects. When we say, "this is my property," we imply that we are empowered to do absolutely anything we want with it. Possession, on the other hand, does not recognize such absolutism. Any conception of ownership which is not ultimate or absolute is necessarily not property. For instance, without the right to usury, there can be no property. Without the right to destroy or sell, there can be no property. Any form of ownership which can be nullified without the owner's will or death is not property. Conceptions of possession exclude one or many of these rights or rules, sometimes all.
15. Haven't you heard of the Tragedy of the Commons? It proves that property rights are necessary.
Since many libsocs used to believe in the established capitalist system, some of us are familiar with the Tragedy of the Commons mechanism. A Tragedy of the Commons scenario occurs when a given resource is unowned and freely available for use. In such a scenario, each individual's interest is to hoard as much of that resource as possible before other people do the same. The end result is sub-optimal: the resource is quickly depleted, can no longer generate more of itself, and newcomers have access to none of what existed before.
One example of this is the Labrador fishing industry pre- and post-government intervention. On their own, the fishermen of Labrador took collective responsibility for their catch and kept each other in check in a balance of power. But when the government asked them to register their output, they all naturally claimed a higher number than the truth. Because of the new system, overfishing became the norm. The collective, implicit rules that existed were overturned and replaced with explicit bureaucratic impotency.
It is not property rights specifically that prevent the Tragedy of the Commons, but rather ownership as a general concept and, most importantly, some form of personal or collective responsibility. Irresponsible use of property can equally lead to disaster (as the generally disastrous governmental policies towards natural resources prove). It is also worth pointing out that property rights include the right to destroy, that property rights are a form of hoarding, and that property rights are not much help against externalities like pollution, especially when those producing the externalities are far more powerful than their victims.
As an example, try the lobby or elevator of an apartment complex. While it is technically property, it's common ground for the people within it. If you damage something in it, other residents would hold you responsible and make you pay for the damages. Under private property, the individual can rightfully destroy his property without letting anyone else take advantage of it to actually use it productively.
16. What about self-ownership? Do you not believe that individuals own themselves, if you reject property?
Self-ownership is a meaningless concept that has been rejected by many people without rejecting propertarianism.
Ownership is a relation between a person, which is in control, and an object, which is controlled. The idea of self-ownership therefore implies that the person owns his or her self. This is a circular argument: how can an object own itself? How can a singular entity be both in control and controlled in the same relation? We see that the concept of self-ownership is actually nonsensical.
That being said, when people talk about self-ownership, they are generally talking about freedom. If we look at the issue from this angle, the question becomes a lot easier to answer. We do believe that freedom exists without property: in fact, we believe that it can only exist without it.
17. If you reject self-ownership, how can you talk about aggression or rights?
The concepts of aggression and rights can easily be defined without referring to self-ownership. Aggression can be defined in relation to the conflicts that occurs when one person's value-expression interferes with another person's value-expression. Rights can be defined as a justification of violence in order to protect some aspect of one's freedom. Neither of these refer to, or imply, self-ownership, which is an incoherent concept.
18. What is the basis for possession?
No human being can live without making use of the products of human action. The concept of possession is therefore a necessary construct to deal with conflicts on product usage.
People have a right to what they legitimately produced or acquired. This is not the same as accepting a right to usury based on it.
19. Aren't stocks in a company analogous to renting?
A stock in a corporation does not make you part owner of it. You don't get to use control over what the means of production are used for. You get a part of the profits at the end.
20. Can I take your toothbrush/bed/house, etc. if you reject property? Can I take your car from a parking lot if you leave it?
No. We do not reject all forms of ownership– we simply reject property-ownership.
21. Doesn't the "means of production" change over time? A hammer can be the final product, and then it becomes the means of production when building a house?
Yes it does, but the social anarchist view is that at that point in time, whoever is actually using it owns it.
22. Why is anarcho-capitalism a contradiction in terms? Isn't capitalism a free-market system where all trades are voluntary, thus making it compatible with anarchism?
As explained in the first question, the issue is that in the long term, a free market based upon capitalist property allows for enormous power disparities, and state-like powers. Free markets are compatible with anarchism– capitalism is not. Because I own the tools, I can dictate how you employ your skills and to what end, regardless of the fact that I need your skills in order to utilize these tools that I possess.
23. Can't we just work together to smash the State now and worry about these details later?
The short answer is no. The ancap wants to abolish the State; the ansoc wants to abolish all hierarchy, of which the State is only one. The former will attack the State while supporting other authority, and the latter will attack all authority. A typical anti-political ancap views a political End the Fed petition as one that fails to strike the real problem, statism, the same way an ansoc views a movement to end the State as failing to strike the real root problem of hierarchy and authority.
The ansoc view is that "anarcho-"capitalism is a form of micro-statism, with the belief in property (as opposed to possession) leading one to authoritarian conclusions. So it really makes no sense to demolish the current State only to replace it with the authoritarianism of property.
The view of "anarcho-"capitalism being a gross contradiction in terms, also comes into play. If "anarcho-"capitalism is a contradiction, that renders the term meaningless, and thus "anarcho-"capitalists have no actual consistent position, and thus cannot be said to actually stand for anything consistent, with their opposition to one authority and support for similar authorities.
Also, if "anarcho-"capitalists advocate different alternatives to the State, their course of action will differ. They may advocate hierarchical business structures as a part of agorism, or take action based upon the belief in private property, and those means are found to be completely counter-revolutionary by the ansoc. Ansocs will advocate tactics such as advocating labor unions and syndicates, cooperatives, mutual banks, worker strikes and takeovers, while the ancap will often view those as ineffective at best.
And many "anarcho-"capitalists are more than willing to work and collaborate with minarchist statists, while at the same time they have no interest in working with left-anarchists. So the attitude that ansocs ought to shut up about property and hierarchies and work with ancaps to fight the current State, is rather hypocritical.
24. If the owner provides everything but the labor, why should the worker have a right to the products?
This is a circular question, in that it hinges entirely on one's position on ownership. From the perspective of possession, the "owner" is the person who is using the object, and thus would be part of the workers, not an individual private owner separate from the workers. Therefore the question reduces itself to "if the workers provide everything, why should the workers have a right to their own products," which is trivial. From the perspective of property, the workers have no right to their own products to begin with, so the question is clearly false.