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Geo-Mutualism Offers Inter-Community Dispute-Resolution

Geo-Mutualism Offers Inter-Community Dispute-Resolution
Carson’s Occupancy-and-Use Regime Has No Such Mechanism

I’d like to thank Kevin Carson for taking the time to reply to my critique of his original statement. Before I continue to respond, I’d like to also take a quick moment to do something which I should have done in my first response, and acknowledge the importance of Kevin’s work. Kevin has an immense amount of great, quality, work. My replies are not intended to in any way put that down, despite the areas in which we disagree.

The first part of Kevin’s response to me was in regard to wage-labor. Kevin argues, using Benjamin Tucker to back him up, that wage-labor [1] is not fundamentally non-mutualist. This is a particularly difficult nut to crack, because the line of demarcation between American individualist anarchism and mutualism is so unclear at times, that one is inclined to include Tucker in both schools. I have always understood individualism and mutualism to have common elements, while mutualism had more of a fondness for cooperative association. Benjamin Tucker seems to have such a fondness for association in regard to the mutual bank, but does not seem to push the idea very avidly in other areas, like, as Kevin points out, wage-labor. The difference between mutualism and American individualist anarchism seems due to Josiah Warren’s negative experience of Owenism. Mutualists, unlike the individualists, have always seemed much more willing to associate, and this can be seen in the mutualista movement; the mutualism of Proudhon, Lum, and Swartz; and even in New Mutualism. Still, they have much in common, so much so that Tucker has elements of both. One of the elements of individualism is Tucker’s willingness to accept wage-labor. I’d suggest, and I think he would agree, that Kevin falls on a line between individualism and mutualism (which already bleed into one another quite a bit). I believe this side of Tucker’s politics is what allows for his openness to wage employment, and perhaps the same is true with Kevin. I do not take this view. I hold to my stance against bosses and the wage system.

It is my view that a consistent mutualism would forbid wage employment, not by decree, but by the laws of supply and demand. That is, I believe cooperatives to be the best employers of them all, and I believe this to be objectively so, because I define objectivity by consensus. A thing is interpreted as objectively true when all parties capable of understanding agree on what is occurring. This is the method of objective science. Cooperatives, by involving the members in the decisions that affect their lives, can come to objectively better decisions. This is so, because the nature of interpreting objectivity requires consensus. That said, cooperatives have a competitive advantage over unilateral employer-domination. Further, the lack of cooperatives can be attributed to the monopoly on credit, which mutualism seeks to dissolve.

Mutualism came from the socialist movement, which was not just wanting to redistribute wealth (the widest definition of socialism, in which individualist anarchism falls into as well); it had a program for doing so: Sharing productive and distributive property. This is the part of socialism that the individualists rejected. The mutualists were more friendly to association, and maintained more of the elements of utopian socialism, such as a fondness for cooperatives.

With respect to occupancy and use, employers are its antithesis. An employer is often absent, while the workers are there occupying and using “their” things. This is no less exploitive than the relationship of landlord and tenant. When I was young and learning about classical anarchism, it came to my attention that the related anarchist concept of possession strictly forbade absentee control of property, and that worker control was its solution. The Anarchist FAQ (at least at the time I read it) goes as far as to suggest that without worker control, anarchism has not been accomplished.

My own understanding of mutualism was an outgrowth of an in-depth reading of collectivist anarchism, like that sided with in the FAQ, and the individualism of folks like Benjamin Tucker. When I came to finally understand mutualism as distinct from both of these, it was in acknowledging that it balanced them, and contained elements of each, in their purest forms: The democratic assemblage of industry and the sharing of its surplus, and the freedom to exchange with others that which has been earned. Collectivism would favor the former, individualism the latter. Mutualism, as I see it, is best understood as balancing these, seeking the harmony between individual and collective forces.

Carson agrees that “one of non-Proviso Lockeanism’s sharpest divergences from occupancy-and-use is in regard to rental property […]” In recognizing that occupancy and use generally forbids house-rent (outside of certain apparent norms) and absentee ownership, while pardoning bosses (wage labor) to some extent, Carson misses the fact that the relationship of the worker and the boss is the same rental relationship as that of the tenant and landlord: A relationship of rent. The boss rents their tools, their trademarks, their state-granted licenses, etc. to the worker, and in exchange they gain a profit from labor. Profit is just a specific form of rent, which is why occupancy-and-use-possession, as defined by left anarchists, forbids it. It is often said that the worker rents their labor, but this is false, the boss rents their capital to the worker, and buys the labor of the workers. The exchange is labor for capital, but because it is unilateral, monopolistic, there is more labor provided than capital, and this difference is profit, which is kept by the capitalist. The laborer sells his labor for less than it would be worth in a competitive market.

My original criticism involved arbitrariness. There needs to be something more objective, more concrete, when it comes to the manner in which decisions are made between different groups that have different forms of consensus between them. It is here that the dangers of “anarchy” show up, the anarchy which means “chaos.” Communities are units which have methods of revolving disputes between their members, and which have a considerable amount of agreement. They agree not just in a general sense, but using very specific, particular, procedures that the members find mutually agreeable, leading to predictable resolutions. Each community is different. How are these communities, each with different standards, to get along, not just in a general sense, but in the same sense members get along within their communities? Sovereign communities exist due to explicit or tacit agreement — binding by law — between individuals, which keeps them from warring, and allows them to live and trade. Short of a similar standard of property rights held between communities, and procedures for making decisions and settling disputes between them, as is done with individuals, what is to keep these communities from warring? We suggest that communist individuals belong in communist communities, and capitalists belong in capitalist communities, so how are we to say that communist communities and capitalist communities are to get along without themselves being a part of an even larger community? If mutual toleration is the goal, then a positive and specific proposal needs to be put forward, in the same manner that the proposals of industrial direct-democracy bring together anarcho-syndicalists of differing personalities, that private property brings together capitalists of varying characteristics. What will be the objective mediation between the communities, the way property is for capitalists, and industrial democracy is for syndicalists? Something must play this role. Geo-mutualist panarchism provides a non-arbitrary solution: Possession secured by compensation, priced by bid. Compensation is to be non-arbitrary, the way pricing is, because it is to be set by open bid of the members. The highest bid is not a subjective, but an objective, matter, able to be comprehended by all, and set by supply and demand, and so is non-arbitrary.

How are diverse property systems to exist in a polycentric legal system, in which their boundaries often overlap? Perhaps this is not what is meant. Carson says,

I stated quite clearly that the differing land tenure rules would coexist only on the level of separate communities, with each community internally applying one or the other based on majority mores — I certainly did not argue for more than one set of land tenure rules coexisting within a single community.

However, Kevin seems to understand this as a form of polycentric law:

And whatever the institutional arrangements for deciding disputes in a polycentric legal system — arbitration between protection associations, juries of the vicinage, etc. — I would expect a local body of law to develop in each community based on judicial precedents, in the specific area of land tenure disputes reflecting whatever principles had majority support.

I find it quite difficult to understand how monocentric property systems are compatible with polycentric, overlapping systems of law, unless they are subject to a meta-principle like geoism, which secures space for the communities using a common means.

It is my understanding that law is a matter applied to one’s own territory. I’m asking what is to be done between these territories on disputed land. “They’ll come to an agreement” sounds nice, and it may eventually be true, but this will only be true after something substantial, something positive, is brought to the table: An agreeable resolution. What will be the terms under which they come to agreement, and without knowing these terms now, how can we so confidently support their future existence? We agree that an agreement must be reached, so the question now becomes, Which philosophy offers the most agreeable solution? I believe success will be found in the system which includes the least arbitrariness and subjectivity of all. Carson’s variety of occupancy and use does not offer a means by which decisions will be made (as syndicalism does with democracy), or propose a mutually-agreeable subject matter for the final resolution of the decisions (as capitalism does with property rights) between the groups, but leaves these both up in the air. Libertarian varieties of Georgism, however, do offer a means by which decisions may be made, and a matter of their resolutions.

According to the best of the Georgist views, decisions regarding economic rent are to be set according to bid, and the matter of the bid is the economic rent. This is very much similar to the non-arbitrary manner in which items are exchanged under the price mechanism: Those who are willing to sacrifice the most for the thing under dispute, in order to compensate the original bearer of its costs (either production or abstinence costs), receive it. In the case of markets for labor and goods, it is proper that compensation goes to the maker, but as none have created the land (it is a common inheritance), it is proper that compensation be given to those who share in its title, but who go with less.

My proposal is a positive one, which presents a specific, particular manner (bid) in which the general idea (agreement) may be reached, and which presents a mechanism for determining possession rights (rent) that can be found at least tolerable by both the left and the right, as it is non-arbitrary (the highest bid is the highest bid, it is objective, a market price). This lack of arbitrariness is essential to goodwill in society.

Kevin says,

It seems likely that land property regimes will be polycentric to the extent that majority mores vary from one locality to another, because absent a single legal regime enforced by a large territorial state, property claims will depend on the willingness of local communities to enforce them. And in a polycentric legal regime in which all enforcement is financed endogenously (by the beneficiaries, as opposed to externalizing the cost on society at large through exogenous funding from general revenues), the enforceability of one’s property claims will depend on whether the potential economic value of the property is sufficient to justify enforcement costs …

So for example, a mutual defense association or an-cap private security firm in a Lockean community will probably have an exclusion clause against enforcing the collection of absentee landlord rent against an occupant in a mutualist community, or protecting landowners against collection of land rent in a Georgist community — or for that matter, restoring a dispossessed factory owner in a syndicalist or communist community. Likewise, mutual defense associations in occupancy-and-use communities will likely refuse to protect occupants of land in a Lockean community against rent collectors [emphasis added].

Again, Kevin suggests that a polycentric legal system is to be set into place, but it seems that his understanding of polycentric law is not so much about overlapping boundaries as it is about having many small monocentric laws (communities in which a single system of property rights is practiced). His treatment of property and the relationships between communities does not acknowledge that property is simply that which can be controlled (egoism), and does not address the incentives that a capitalist community will have to simply claim the property of a weaker mutualist society, or vice-versa. This does not scare me, because I believe geo-mutualism ultimately has the competitive advantage, though an emergent one. However, neither does it suggest that there is a way around dispute, the way geoism does. Why should these communities that have different standards respecting the claims of the other, if one has claims to high-rent land and others do not? In what manner can these disputes be addressed in a non-arbitrary fashion? Kevin seems to assume, without looking at the costs and benefits of war and peace, that each community, big and small, sluggish and expedient, has an interest in respecting each other’s right to practice their own system, and that this is sufficient for them to place clauses in their policies in order to protect outsiders. Either this, or he understands that his solution is a recipe for ongoing dispute, unending war, expansionism, and he is okay with that. I must admit that I am not opposed to the latter, because I believe that geo-mutualism would necessarily win out in the evolutionary war of expansion, but I do not necessarily feel it is the most efficient or desirable means, when it is perfectly possible to allow each to exist at their own costs for the benefit to all (sharing the rent).


1. When I am talking about wage-labor, I am talking about the wage system in which an employer may unilaterally direct the efforts of another for an extended period of time, without having to compensate them from their own efforts. For instance, I am including all private employers, whose payments to their staff do not come from their own wages, but from the money collectively earned by the team-organism. This is different from the home-owner, who pays a plumber to fix their toilet, and who gives up their own wages in order to do so. Though, technically, both of these are considered economic wages, the former equates to the employer-employee “wage-system,” while the latter does not. The difference is that the wage-system is the relationship between a boss and a worker, while the latter refers to payments from a customer to a potentially self-employed person. While the payment to the plumber may correctly be called wages, the wage-system especially refers to the relationship in which the employer divies the earnings of the firm, and keeps a profit.

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