Friday, May 1, 2009

Hierarchy and usury, once again

As I've stated numerous times, my principal objection to left-libertarianism is not cultural, but economic and scientific. A real-life economy simply could not function on left-libertarian principles. This is because the simplistic rule of "no hierarchy" essentially means "no division of labor."

The entrepreneurs, inventors, innovators, and "men of the mind" (as Rand called them) will always be the leaders, the risk-takers, and the project managers. Everyone else will always be (voluntary) followers, for their own benefit. As Tom Woods put it:

Leaving aside the odd view that only manual laborers engage in “work,” all the brawn in the world could never have produced a steam engine or a Pentium processor. Only when informed by the knowledge of inventors and supplied with the capital saved by capitalists can the average laborer produce the tiniest fraction of what he is today accustomed to producing.

So the left-libertarian desire to "smash hierarchy" amounts to "smash the brains of the operation" and "smash the division of labor." Let the workers democratically replace the mind of the person in charge! (And let's allow hospital janitors to "vote" on the decisions of surgeons while we're at it.)

A comment on Rad Geek's blog also discusses the inescapability of the division of labor:

Well, let’s set this straight: the difference of talents and character will certainly produce labor contracts wherein the capitalist assumes the (entrepreneurial) risk-taking weight and the wage-earners obtain a fixed income where there was none in a self-“employment” setting. This vertical division of labor is far superior (as the horizontal or trade type) to independent laboring. The fact that you find it forming over and over, spontaneously (see Menger-Hayek-Leoni) in small populations, deserted areas and anarchic settings (no black flags or blogs, just the lack of any State presence suffices) must tell you something about its validity as an institution.

When I bring these types of arguments up to left-libertarians, they get angry very quickly and claim (unconvincingly) that they aren't against the division of labor. But it has to be one or the other--either no hierarchy or no division of labor. Take your pick.

Other left-libertarians realize how weak their position is after you explain it to them. Some will gradually concede, "Fine, there has to be some hierarchy and a division of labor. It's the autonomy of teh workers I'm concerned about."

Fine. I'm concerned about that too. Focus on autonomy, then. But I won't be satisfied until all of them confront these problems head-on instead of evading them (before going on to ramble about "hierarchy" again, as if they have some keen insight the rest of us are unaware of).

Another dilemma left-libertarians refuse to confront is that of "usury." Few of them will give a straight answer on whether they think it's ok to make profits off a firm one doesn't work in. IMO, anyone not opposed to that is not a leftist or left-libertarian, but some breed of capitalist.

So ends another post on a subject that's getting tiresome. But I had to get my thoughts out there.


Rorshak (1313) said...

I do agree with you that some degree of hierarchy is necessary in order for there to be a division of labor.

Carson sums up the real problem rather well in the article "Hierarchy or the Market"

"The problem is not hierarchy in itself, but government policies that make it artificially prevalent"

How hierarchical business would be in an actually free market, I can't say. But I do believe we'd see less than we do now, without state intervention.

Cork said...

Carson himself is actually quite realistic on these matters. Ironically, his own positions are probably closer to mine than to many of his followers (despite them thinking I'm the anti-christ).

Mike Gogulski said...

Sound points, though not all self-identified left-libertarians hold the views you seem to be, somewhat cavalierly, ascribing to all of them.

With respect to hierarchy, the whole thing is silly. At the root it is not the form of social relations that ought to be at issue, but rather the privilege which attaches to some people -- be they government thugs, corporate management or, even more broadly, men in general contra women.

As for "usury", yeah, there are some who cling to this IMHO ridiculous notion that profit, rent and/or interest are immoral as forms of social/market interaction, even if a truly free market absent privilege existed. The more nuanced of those at least have their feet on the ground, saying, in effect, that they find those things morally repugnant, but not rights violations, and that they thus can be part of a free society even though some of its members have what amounts to, IMHO, an aesthetic disposition against them.

Incidentally, I consider myself both an anarcho-capitalist and a left-libertarian. So also, for example, does Brad Spangler.

Cork said...


I guess I'm using "left-libertarian" to mean "libertarian socialist" (or something very close) here. Not so much the left-Rothbardians.