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Kevin Carson is a rare species of anarchist: a Mutualist. This puts him in the tradition of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, one of the very first anarchists, and chief theorist of mutualism in Europe. You won't find many proponents for it in the general anarchist community, though, as anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-communism have firmly replaced it not only in Europe, but also in the United States, where it had a more significant influence (many of the anarcho-individualists of the U.S. followed a philosophy that can best be described as a combination of Proudhon and Max Stirner.) Mutualism, as Carson himself puts it, has been stuck in a "time warp".
With "Studies in Mutualist Political Economy", however, Carson attempts to resurrect some of it. The book is divided into three parts. The first part, comprising roughly eighty pages, is an extended argument relating to the continued relevance of the labor theory of value (LTOV). Carson argues that, while the marginalists have made valid critiques of the LTOV, the cost theory of the classical economists still remains the key element in determining value, with the market used as a mechanism of deviation from this core element. He of course includes many exceptions and variations from this rule, and incorporates some of what he sees as the valid critiques of the marginalists. Personally, I didn't find this part of the book to be terribly interesting, except for the fact that he incorporates a pretty wide array of economic schools into his writing, from Marxists (Maurice Dobb) to classicals (David Ricardo) to neoclassicals (Alfred Marshall) to Austrians (Ludwig Von Mises).
It's the second part of Carson's book that I find the most interesting.Read more ›
Kevin Carson seems to be single handedly reviving mutualism from its long and dark slumber, and I for one am grateful for it. I've flirted with left-libertarian ideas in the past, but Carson's exposition of mutualist ideology on his blog and in this book are definitely making me seriously revisit this overlooked school of political economy.
Carson does not waste any time at all in getting to the most contentious aspects of mutualist thought as he opens the book immediately with a defense of the (reformulated) labor theory of value. He spends most of his time analyzing and refuting the initial 19th century criticisms of the LTV that sparked the marginal revolution and the abandonment of LTV henceforth. His main dispute with said critics is the repeat offense of evaluating theories of value within the context of state supported imperfect markets (ie capitalism) and not allowing the LTV to hold its own when artificial monopolies are removed from hindering free markets. Along the way he updates Marx's erroneous ideas of subjective value and time-based (and skill-based) differences in labor. He also refutes the austrian school's skeptical attitude towards the use of equilibrium in the argument for LTV merely on the grounds that their praxeological deduction cannot support the inference. I'm not entirely convinced that his resurrection and reformulation of the LTV is valid, but I also don't think it's necessary for the rest of his arguments either! I think marginal utility is a more general and accurate theory of value, but I also think that, once artificial barriers are removed from the free market, labor becomes the predominant factor in cost and, subsequently for most products, value.Read more ›
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The book is brilliant. Kevin Carson is definitely an anarchist within the tradition of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Benjamin Tucker. This is probably the best exposition of "left-libertarian" or "mutualist" anarchism that you will ever find. I come from a background in the Austrian School of economics and was surprised to find how thoroughly Carson grasps the Austrian School. He has clearly studied Rothbard, Hayek, and Mises. He's also familiar with Keynes. He has a knack for recognizing the positive contributions of others while pointing out their errors. He cites all of my favorite writers (Rothbard, SEK III, Thomas Hodgskin, Benjamin Tucker, et al.). The only part of the book that I don't totally agree with is his defense of the Labour Theory of Value. Yet, I can see his point. This is the kind of book that will turn a typical anarcho-capitalist into a left-libertarian or left-Rothbardian. It is a must read.
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This is a monumental work of synthetic political economy.
Carson marries the best aspects of the Labor Theory of Value with Marginal Utility.
Further, it gives a compelling anarchist / libertarian account of state-capitalist history, imperialism and colonialism, corporate liberalism (and revisionist New Deal history), and rent-seeking unfree international markets. Carson coined the term "vulgar libertarian," describing statist free-marketers like Ayn Rand.
He described such court-intellectuals in Contract Feudalism:
"Vulgar libertarian apologists for capitalism use the term "free market" in an equivocal sense: they seem to have trouble remembering, from one moment to the next, whether they're defending actually existing capitalism or free market principles. So we get [a] standard boilerplate article... arguing that the rich can't get rich at the expense of the poor, because "that's not how the free market works"-- implicitly assuming that this is a free market. When prodded, they'll grudgingly admit that the present system is not a free market, and that it includes a lot of state intervention on behalf of the rich. But as soon as they think they can get away with it, they go right back to defending the wealth of existing corporations on the basis of "free market principles."
Carson even outlines a practical strategy for dismantling the state and truly freeing markets. Abolition of the state is necessary but not sufficient, and he describes what other steps (including worker's co-operatives) might be taken.
I could not recommend this book more highly. One caveat is that Part I deals with dense theories of political economy, not suited for the lay reader.Read more ›
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