Capital: A Diversion?

The homesteading of the ruling class’s unjustly acquired property is a major focus for many left-leaning market anarchists.  Many market anarchists cite Murray Rothbard’s article “Confiscation and the Homestead Principle,” in which he argued that capitalist firms that received most of their profit from state intervention in the economy should be regarded as branches of the state, and their plant and equipment treated as unowned and subject to homesteading by their own workforces or the consumers they served.

Rothbard even spoke of anarchists seizing the state as a prelude to dismantling it, and nationalizing state capitalist property and handing it over to workers and consumers as part of the dismantling process.

Some anarchists take a similar view of progressive taxation of the super-rich, on the grounds that it’s simply a corrective measure to the state policies that conferred enormous monopoly rents on the privileged classes in the first place.

But aside from the question of principle, I fear that this approach is a diversion from a strategic standpoint.  Before we talk of using the state as a mechanism to correct the results of state-conferred privilege, we should remember what states are and who they work for.  A state is the instrument for the political means of acquiring wealth, run for the benefit of a ruling class; and by definition, a majority of producers can never directly control the state.

Many of the plutocrats, especially those in the “progressive” strand, are probably smart enough to figure out the crisis tendencies, like overproduction and underconsumption,  that result from unlimited privilege, and to act through their state to correct the worst excesses of the system.  The “progressive” or “green” strand of capitalism, represented by Bill Gates, T. Boone Pickens, et al, sees a partial redistribution of purchasing power as a corrective mechanism to guarantee that the overall system of privilege and wealth extraction continue to the maximum feasible extent.  You have to spend money to make money.

It’s just another part of the same general theme I keep harping on: the factions of organized capital that support liberal Democrats and New Deal-style consensus capitalism are like a smart farmer who figures he’ll maximize his wealth in the long run by spending a bit more now to take good care of his draft animals.

And the amount of money they’re taxed to fund welfare to the underclass, in order to prevent destabilizing levels of hunger and homelessness, is a small fraction of what they extract from the non-destitute working and middle class, through unequal exchange.

So people like Bill Gates probably welcome progressive taxation as a form of innoculation against things like having their copyrights and patents voided.

On the other hand, if we do our jobs right, seizing the privileged classes’ surplus wealth will be a moot point, because before we’re done it will all be worthless to them anyway.  The state capitalists have pursued models of extensive growth from adding more subsidized inputs, because the state has given them preferential access to capital and large tracts of land.  The counter-economy, as a matter of necessity, must follow an intensive growth model based on more efficient extraction of value from the same level of inputs, and on reducing the capital outlays and overhead required to support a comfortable standard of living.   The process was envisioned by Vinay Gupta in “The Unplugged” as “buying out at the bottom”:  workers and consumers drop out of the state capitalist system and take advantage of new, low-capital outlay, low-overhead technologies.  The upshot will be that, as workers drop out of the system and consumers stop buying its products, the state capitalists will find their large agglomerations of land and capital to be worthless to them:  idle factories and idle plantation farms, with a shrinking number of people willing to work them or buy their products.

We’re beginning to see the fulfillment of that vision right now, as the reduced costs of doing things is making most investment capital superfluous.  As Rushkoff described it, the desktop and network revolutions reduced the capital outlays required for production in the information and culture industries by two orders of magnitude.  And we’re seeing a similar development, with the micromanufacturing revolution, in the capital costs of physical production.

The main struggle, from the standpoint of the counter-economy, won’t be remedying the lack of capital—the capital is becoming increasingly useless to us.  The struggle will be combating the state capitalist system’s attempts to prohibit doing things more cheaply and efficiently.  Reducing the capital outlays and overhead costs of the countereconomy, and defending it against attempts at suppression, are our main revolutionary orders of business.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory