Monday, April 16, 2012

Response to "Socialism Actually Works: a New Defense of Free Markets "

I have a very mixed attitude about this article. It presents a solid case against a fully state run economy, called "socialism", which I agree with, and deserves plenty of exposure. Unfortunately, it contains some extremely frustrating errors.

First, what is socialism? According to the usage in this article, some proposals for a new economic system made by socialists would not be considered socialism. This being pretty absurd, I think the best way to answer the question is to say that socialism is the family of proposals made by socialists (not all of which involve a state run economy), not necessarily a specific one. If you're unsure about what I'm saying, check this out:
The myth of socialism as statism

Council or left communists, who were competitors of Lenin in the Marxist movement, argued (and still argue) against participation in electoral politics and/or unions. They thought that the role of Marxists was to educate the working class, and since they (I'd say mistakenly) believed in the historical inevitability of a revolution which would overthrow "capitalism" (another problematic concept), they were unnecessary and would stand in the way of genuine revolution. That was the business of a class conscious proletariat. They called this process "spontaneous organization." Lenin criticized these tendencies in an essay titled "Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder." When I ran into Hayek's concept of spontaneous order, it sounded very familiar. I was more ready to accept it than the average person, because my familiarity with this idea.

Kevin Carson, who is a part of the socialist tradition and an advocate of free markets (and who I would credit with converting me to libertarianism), published a book titled Studies In Mutualist Political Economy. The Journal of Libertarian Studies (a Mises Institute project) published a symposium on his book, which is available here. In it, he attempts to integrate the insights of the Austrian school into the views associated with 19th century American individualist anarchism. He makes a case for a subjectivized version of the labor theory of value. His claim is that people subjectively determine the value of something, but we do so with things which came into existence because of our labor. If his view is ever advocated by the right people, it could theoretically replace the current neo-classical consensus on this issue. If nothing else, it means that descriptions of the labor theory of value like the one in this article are overlooking a version of the idea which is not subject this type of criticism.

Finally, there is the use of the idea of "The Left" which associates it with a desire for greater state control of society and the economy. According to this article Carson and his associates (who refer to themselves as "left libertarians") don't exist. Since I agree with their economic arguments, and want them widely accepted, I find this mistake incredibly annoying.
I no longer consider myself one because of reasons not having to do with their economic arguments.

It would be nice to see a version of this article which fixes these problems.