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Studies in Mutualist Political Economy Paperback – March 1, 2007
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"Both mainline "conservatives" and "liberals" share the same mirror-imaged view of the world (but with "good guys" and "bad guys" reversed), in which growth of the welfare and regulatory state reflected a desire to restrain the power of big business. According to this commonly accepted version of history, the Progressive and New Deal programs were forced on corporate interests from outside, and against their will. In this picture of the world, big government is a populist "countervailing power" against the "economic royalists." This picture of the world is shared by Randroids and Chicago boys on the right, who fulminate against "looting" by "anti-capitalist" collectivists; and by NPR liberals who confuse the New Deal with the Second Advent."
-Kevin A. Carson, "Studies in Mutualist Political Economy" page 209
Kevin Carson refuses to pull punches against those whose political philosophies are inconsistent, whether they are on the left or right, radical or mainstream. His piercing criticism of those with less consistent positions, within the framework of a political ideology which is, by all accounts, a sort of "in-between" for modern libertarianism and classical socialism, is quite fantastic. The accounts of primitive accumulation and debunking of "lasseiz-faire" myths are exquisite. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in politics, an ability to think critically, and an open mind.
I highly recommend this book and many of his other works.
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. Carson attacks "vulgar libertarianism" (libertarianism that is nothing more than a crude ideological front for "free market" capitalism) on two fronts. The first, which is that capitalism was established peacefully, and that those who first acquired wealth accumulated it justly and fairly, is taken apart directly after the LTOV section of the book. Carson shows through the history of feudal land policies during the late Middle Ages that the groundwork for early capitalism and "primitive accumulation" were indeed as Marx said, "written in letters of blood and fire". Colonialism and the Industrial Revolution in Britain are also touched upon.
Carson continues his rebuttal of the "laissez faire" argument by looking at the supposed system of laissez faire that existed during the Industrial Revolution in the United States. As he points out, from any standpoint this wasn't really "laissez faire" at all, as there was considerable state involvement in the protection of privilege. Benjamin Tucker's "Big Four" monopoly system is discussed at length, as is the difference between Lockean, Georgist, and mutualist theories of land ownership.
The rest of this part is an analysis of capitalism as it has existed lately, the crisis's it runs into due to its own nature, and how it copes with them (for instance, the shift from Keynesianism to the neoliberal "free market" agenda, or the opening of new markets outside the borders of a nation state with imperialism policies). There is a wealth of information available about these sort of topics out there, and this book only touches on them in general terms.
Finally, the last part of the book addresses the question of "now what?" Carson says that the whole enabler for exploitation is the state, which puts him at odds with Marxists and many anarchists as well (Noam Chomsky being a good example). Therefore, he argues, we must do everything in our power to oppose and undermine it. He urges cooperation between different factions to achieve short term goals against the state, both leftist and rightwing (he's a bit delusional on this point; it's hard to imagine a group like Food Not Bombs cooperating with a conservative group). Capitalism cannot sustain itself on its present course, and with its enforcer the state weakened, labor will finally be liberated. He closes the book with a bibliography and list of mutualist resources.
This book is available for free online at mutualist.org, so if you get a chance check it out.
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Carson marries the best aspects of the Labor Theory of Value with Marginal Utility.Read more