Left Market Anarchism | Who Shaves the Barber? #47

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Political philosophy begins with the question: who should have political authority and why? Anarchism answers: no one. Popular mythology tells us this is synonymous with chaos and disorder, but there are many reasons to doubt this must be so. In this episode, I argue that anarchism – properly understood – is in fact the correct answer to the problem of political authority; it is the only answer that avoids unjust hierarchies, provides for individual and social freedom, and optimizes for general welfare. This is because, in a word, society is best seen (and run) as a web, not as a pyramid.

Much of my focus is on specifying what I mean by anarchism, and which version of anarchism I’m arguing for. Specifically, I argue that the notion of a free market – again, properly understood – is at the heart of anarchism. At the same time, I argue against “capitalism” as being a confused and rather unhelpful notion, quite removed from the notion of a free market. I also argue against popular libertarian approaches to free markets and anarchism, such as the so-called “non-aggression principle” and property rights. Instead, I zero in on a notion of free market defined as a cultural norm in which monopolies are viewed as unacceptable. Only this definition, I argue, properly communicates what a free market really is and only it provides the necessary conditions for a free and prosperous society. It is, at the same time, a maximally permissive definition: it requires no particular views on interpersonal ethics or lifestyle, and is as compatible with (for example) communism as it is with more familiar notions of “free markets”.…

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The Meaning of a Free Market

There’s something that’s always bothered me about the concept of a free market, and I suspect it bothers others too. A free market is supposed to allow the free interactions of its many participants. Intervention by the state is exactly what doesn’t happen in a free market, by definition.

But the state is composed of people too. It’s an organization – a unique one, for sure, but an organization nonetheless. Why treat it as something extraneous to the market, imposing on it from without? Why not consider state regulations of the market to be just the contributions of one of many market actors in a free market? Isn’t the state/market distinction ultimately arbitrary? What, in principle, is so different about the state?

Behind these questions lies an important insight into how to best bring about the emergence of a truly free market.

 

Let’s first imagine that a free market is simply everyone doing whatever they choose.  Of course, this doesn’t mean everyone has unlimited options. Each person’s actions will impose constraints on the actions of everyone else. I cannot, for example, buy eggs if no one around me sells eggs. These inevitable constraints aside, let’s not stipulate any other limitations.

This scenario is “free market” at its extreme: it lets the “free it all!” disposition run full throttle to its logical endpoint.

Notice that this state of affairs is what we already have. Everyone – including all market actors, including the state – is already doing whatever they choose within the constraints imposed by the actions of others.…

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