How Compatible Are Anarchism and Capitalism?
Are Anarchism and Capitalism irreconcilable or can these two schools of thought be integrated?
Let’s first explore some definitions. The term ‘anarchism’ comes from the Greek an and archos, which roughly translates to “without rulers”.
Traditionally, Left Anarchism has promoted the idea of political action committees and workers’ councils as an alternative governance structure to State politics. Essentially, these PAC’s and councils are meant to exert political pressure as they see fit. This is both to maintain their political monopoly position — to prevent the reemergence of the “Nation State” (read: any competing governance model) in a given geographic area or indeed the whole world — and also to disrupt the inevitable accumulation of capital in any given enterprise or individual. In effect, the means of political control and domination in such a Left Anarchist society are the same as that of a capitalist nation state. Political power, undoubtedly, still exists; it has just been rebranded. Left Anarchists thus seek to appoint themselves as the new rulers of their society post-revolution.
It is interesting to note the responses received when asking a traditional (Left) Anarchist who it is that would lead these PAC’s and workers’ councils. I have often been disappointed at the naivety (and obstinance) of those with whom I’ve taken up the matter: “All of us would lead. There would be no rulers. We would make all decisions affecting our citizenry through consensus”.
I am personally unconvinced by these assurances and others, such as the assertion that all members of the society would receive everything they needed in order to live a happy and healthy life — and that all this would be accomplished through bi-weekly meetings conducted by the dedicated and incorruptible. Are we all truly so virtuous?
“It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.” –David Brin
Of course humans are corruptible. And it stands to reason that — in complete denial of our own faults and arrogance — we might view ourselves as pure and righteous and worthy of such power. It is an insidious twist — a leap in logic as it were — to say that instead of just me (for, of course, I am not fit to rule) that we all rule (for, of course, we will make wise and just decisions together). What’s often left out of these discussions in my experience is the question of what happens to the people that don’t participate in the consensus process. Are their views weighed? Or is a small minority (a bureaucracy) making decisions — however presumptuously — for us all?
So we see Left Anarchism is Statism-rebranded, albeit with a necessarily destructive bent towards capital and those who wish to retain the fruits of their labor. With this it seems a wholly more thorough, more potent form of Statism with a penchant for violence and an inherently contradictory nature: If we are all rulers, and some choose not to exercise their place on the Grand Council, we will decide for them. That there can be no competing models, that the Grand Council decides everything, that capital also is inevitably siphoned off to feed this Council smacks of Authoritarianism and Tyranny to me. (Better almost to have a King, considering that: 1. Alone a King could implement logically- and internally-consistent policies, 2. Only a small portion of the populous’ wealth would go to feed him, and 3. he may even give back to his people on occasion.)
Left Anarchists do not truly seek to destroy the State, although they make such pronouncements regularly; they seek to, themselves, become it.
Could Capitalism and Anarchism conceivably compliment each other?
While few understand Capitalism to mean simply the freedom to earn and keep the product of your labor, many take it to mean a world in which corporations — regarded as citizens by the State, mind you — monopolize and exploit workers and the environment. Capitalism is understood to equate to the exploitation of workers in developing countries and the destruction of the environment by corporations. Let us not forget that these corporations are granted rights and given welfare by the State.
In all truth, this consequence or set of consequences, the impacts of corporations, are entirely dependent on the State, which:
- controls the issuance of credit and fiat currency,
- subsidizes wholly unprofitable industries, and
- bails out banks laden with toxic assets (further encouraging investment in such assets).
Remove the State, along with it the subsidies, corporate taxes, and start-up costs… and competition can begin to sort out the problems in the market. Failing banks will fail; private losses will remain private. An oil company that causes undue harm to the environment in this society will be boycotted and hence incentivized by consumers to do the right thing: make ammends, pay reparations, and straighten out its act — or else wither and die. Innovative companies will succeed, and continue to succeed until such time as they stop innovating or are overtaken by even more innovative firms. The Free Market Anarchist, the Anarcho-Capitalist, endeavors to bring about this exact state of affairs.
The Left Anarchist retort to this free market vision is often one which insinuates hypocrisy for proposing to supplant political rulers with the Captains of Industry, the Rich. Wouldn’t the capitalists become the new ruling class, absent any political structure?
This question deserves some exploration.
Capitalists as “Ruling Class”
If we return to elementary economics, we see that when a store owner tries to charge a customer too much for a loaf of bread the customer goes elsewhere. In voluntary market interactions such as these there is by definition no coercive element.
Consider the inverse of this situation, which is that a State or Workers’ Council runs the only store in town — or the only store in the whole country for that matter — and demands $10.00 for Wonder Bread. People are forced to buy it or try to get it through the black market, for which by no mere coincidence they may have their lives and livelihoods threatened by the very same State or Council. This is coercive, indeed. The Command Economy is clearly the more violent of the two systems.
Simply put, unless a State is propping up a corporation as a monopoly through legislation, bailouts, and subsidies, a corporation has no chance to coerce its potential customers. Even if for a period of time it charges high prices, eventually competitors will arise.
“The average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 index of leading US companies has decreased by more than 50 years in the last century, from 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years today.” (source: BBC: Can a company live forever?)
Let us reiterate: The average S&P 500 company of today will last just 15 years! Compare this to the life of Empires and Nation States, which is a much longer 250 years on average.
Even the average life of currencies — at 27 years — is nearly twice as long as that of a corporation:
According to a study of 775 fiat currencies by DollarDaze.org, there is no historical precedence for a fiat currency that has succeeded in holding its value. Twenty percent failed through hyperinflation, 21% were destroyed by war, 12% destroyed by independence, 24% were monetarily reformed, and 23% are still in circulation approaching one of the other outcomes. … The average life expectancy for a fiat currency is 27 years, with the shortest life span being one month. (source)
Compared with the perenniality of the State, corporations are ephemera. As fast as corporations wane at present, imagine a world in which none are bouyed up by the government. Were they then to fall into such disreputable behaviors as price gouging or senselessly inflicting environmental damage it would only hasten their demise. Fear not an enduring Corporatocracy; it cannot exist without the collusion and the many blessings of the State.
So to answer the Left Anarchist retort: No, there are no Rulers in Free Market Capitalism, only the shifting sands of the innovative and the stagnant — a sea of companies with natural variation over time, high and low tides.
But what of the Command Economy? Can’t it even out these natural variations?
Ignoring for a moment the folly of a group of politicos thinking they can outwit the market — the collective economic intelligence of all of humanity — how could we summarize the vision of the Authoritarian or the Left Anarchist and contrast it with that of the Anarcho-Capitalist?
Let us consider the intersections of political power and economic freedom. We have Authoritarianism on the one hand, which is complete political control, not unlike what is espoused in Left Anarchists circles. The typical government is monopolistic. It has one set of laws and one primary means of enforcing those laws. To suggest that alternative, parallel legal systems or means of enforcement could co-exist is tantamount to treason. The authoritarian condemns and incarcerates the dissident, quashes divergent thinking through indoctrination and “re-education”. And while anarchists of all stripes rail against this, sadly only a select few mean to completely dismantle the State and break the spell of Statism that has been cast over the people, like wool over their eyes.
The State, the Commune, the Council are all authoritarian in essence, or at the very least tend towards authoritarianism and tyranny, growing ever bigger with the passage of time. It is due to this that I lump Statism and Left Anarchism under the same category of Authoritarianism. I’ll leave it to you to perform the mental substitution for either of these schools of thought in light of my visual below.
Capitalism, on the other hand, can be considered a politically-neutral state of affairs in which the accumulation of wealth is entirely unrestricted. These two, I will argue, opposing systems often comprise the political reality of the day in concert. The U.S. is one such hybrid model, for instance.
|Political Power and Economic Freedom||AUTHORITARIANISM||CAPITALISM|
|AUTHORITARIANISM||Authoritarian Ruling Class
Entrenched State Monopolies
All Profits Go to Government
|Hybrid Ruling Class
Some State-Backed Monopolies
Some Private Profits
|CAPITALISM||Hybrid Ruling Class
Some State-Backed Monopolies
Some Private Profits
|No Ruling Class
No Entrenched Monopolies
Free Market Economy
Maximum Private Profits
We can summarize the above as follows:
- If we have a State we have a Ruling Class.
- Similarly, if we have a Council or some kind of PAC we have a Ruling Class.
- If we have Corporations and a State we may have a hybrid Ruling Class, but certainly a Ruling Class exists.
- If we have only Corporations we do not have a Ruling Class. What we have instead is a constant turnover in the means of production and consistent innovation stemming from unencumbered markets.
But how do we make decisions without the guidance of a State or Council?
If all interactions are voluntary, and all transactions are entered into freely by consenting participants, then no need for political authority exists. It is thus up to each individual to determine what he needs and what he desires. The idea of having “No Rulers” is less prescriptive and more descriptive of reality in this imagined Free World in that case. It achieves the end-game of Anarchism without the need for constant, bloody revolution, without the need for bi-weekly meetings in which conniving bureaucrats on one side, and hot-headed idealists on the other, try to convince themselves that they are still all, in fact, on the same side of the table.
All Statist ideologies posit the need for a final arbiter of truth, a single individual or set of individuals which is not only capable but also virtuous enough to make decisions for the whole of society — often without the input of any of the members of said society — on matters as diverse as finance and environmental stewardship, logistics and defense, welfare and money printing, science and morality, immigration and agricultural production, ad infinitum. We live currently in a world in which people predominantly see through the lens of Statism, one that unquestioningly asserts that such expert and morally-superior Arbiters of Truth exist. Tell me, please: Where are all these Anomalous and Divine Beings? And why on Earth would they choose to enter into Politics of all areas?
So aren’t Anarchism and Capitalism complimentary in fact?
Indeed, it appears so, that the absence of rulers (Anarchism) and the absence of barriers to trade and free association (Capitalism) go hand in hand. Anarcho-Capitalism is a marraige of ultimate personal freedom with that of maximum economic freedom. It seems the more internally-consistent and morally-justified of the political models:
At the very least Free Market Capitalism, or Anarcho-Capitalism, starts with the assumption of Freedom for All. Maximize freedom for everyone and dismantle Political Power. On the opposing end we see Communism and Socialism — the same camp in which Left Anarchism ultimately finds itself — and these are in close proximity to Facism and Nazism. All four of these -ism’s presuppose and necessitate the expansion of government power, whether the reigns of Government change hands or not. It seems prudent — insofar as you have a choice — to choose to implement or support a system which grants you the utmost freedoms, so that even if they are eventually curtailed, at the very least you will have experienced Freedom in its purest form during your life time. What a marvelous thing that would be!