“Left-libertarianism” can be defined in one of at least three ways. It can refer to “liberaltarianism,” a tactical stance and set of policy positions combining a substantially libertarian thrust with a preference for making alliances with the modern center-left. It can refer to a revisionist philosophical movement that differs from Robert Nozick’s entitlement theory of property rights in a more or less egalitarian direction, without going all the way to a Rawlsian social-ownership theory (Michael Otsuka, Peter Vallentyne, Philippe van Parijs, etc.). Finally, it can refer to anarcho-socialism, the original “libertarianism.” In what will probably be a fitfully updated series of posts, I am going to investigate the last of these, insofar as it has attempted to create a new school of positive economics.
I am going to focus, at least initially, on Kevin Carson’s Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, which seems to be one of the most influential recent works in this area. Carson’s theories have, for instance, had some influence on Auburn philosopher Roderick Long and a number of other libertarian public intellectuals such as Sheldon Richman, Gary Chartier, and others associated with the “agorist” and “voluntaryist” movements and with organizations such as the Center for a Stateless Society. And of course, influence has gone back the other way as well. Many left-libertarians, such as Fred Foldvary, have also been influenced by late 19th century economist Henry George, but I will not be focusing on their theories, which are relatively close to the neoclassical mainstream, compared to Carson’s mutualism.
Mutualism itself is situated to the right of the mainstream of European anarcho-socialism, which tends to valorize the violent Catalan anarcho-syndicalists of the Spanish Civil War and oppose markets in favor of collective organization for production. Carson, Long, and others characterize their brand of left-libertarianism as “free-market anti-capitalism.” Nevertheless, my main focus in this series will not be on the normative economic philosophy of mutualism/left-libertarianism/free-market anti-capitalism. Rather, I intend to focus on its positive claims. After all, Carson claims to have resurrected the labor theory of value (LTV) against its neoclassical critics and “to explicate… the laws of motion of state capitalist society.” Does he succeed in this effort, or does left-libertarian economics end up becoming a “degenerative program” in Lakatos’ sense, that is, a research program that generates no new scientific insights that are both true and unique?
In the next post in this series, I will take up Carson’s argument for the LTV and for the central role of the state in propping up capitalism.