Libertarian Class Analysis

Sheldon Richman advocates for class analysis from a libertarian pov.  The concluding quote from the article:

In summary, the taxing power necessarily produces two classes: those who create wealth and those who take and receive it. The producers of wealth naturally want to keep it and use it for their own purposes. Those who wish to expropriate it look for clever ways to get it without unduly upsetting its creators. One way is to teach people that they are the state and that paying ever-more in taxes benefits themselves. The "public" schools have been particularly useful in that mission.

As long as government is in the wealth-transfer business, class conflict will persist. Class in this sense is an important tool of political analysis. It's time that advocates of individual liberty and free markets reclaimed it from the Marxists.

Before I give my take on the article, I want to throw out the following question for discussion:

In modern day America, who are the exploiters?  Please be as specific as possible.

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The exploiters

Government employees.

So...

.. are the GMU economics professors exploiters?

Ilya Somin's response

Well, Ilya Somin pretty much covered the bases I would have covered. That is, class action suffers from the public goods/free rider problem, and class delineation suffers from the fact that a lot of people belong to both classes.

Class action is always a

Class action is always a public goods problem, and class delineation is always arbitrary. So are the actions and delineations of any large social group. A class is defined by its ability to overcome those problems.
This is why Marx, for instance, was always banging on about "class consciousness" -- the working class would only overcome its various collective action problems if its members understood that they were all in this together. That people who believe they have interests in common can coordinate their actions, even when it is not individually rational to do so, is a fairly commonplace fact. Religious groups, unions, and political parties overcome collective action problems all the time. So, in the class-theory view, do classes -- if the members understand that their interests are in common. For this reason, pointing out that a class encounters collective action problems is quite beside the point. The mechanisms are almost beside the point, but to pick an example at random if you class does business in dinner parties, and people don't invite you to dinner parties if you don't cooperate in the class goals, voila, instant collective action solution. People with enough in common can leverage social structures into collective action solutions.
Similarly definition. What defines membership in a class is that one is aware of substantial common interests with the other members of the class. Of course this is fuzzy! Of course it's hard to delineate! That's the point. Someone advocating for class consciousness is in fact advocating for moving the boundaries of the class, for adding people to the class by making them aware of it.
Let me go further: The political class has an advantage. People in politics know that they are in politics, and politics has millenia of evolved mechanisms for resolving collective action problems, from log-rolling to pork to assassination. The productive class (or classes?) have no such advantage. This is why, just as with Marxists, libertarian class theorists must give a great deal of work and thought to making people aware that they are in the class that's getting screwed. Building class consciousness is the key to class success.
Shorter version: Learn from the Marxists. Individually most were idiots, but there were an awful lot of them and the wisdom-of-crowds effect applies to evil as much as to good.

Observation versus creation


Class action is
always a public goods problem, and class delineation is always arbitrary. So are the actions and delineations of any large social group. A class is defined by its ability to overcome those problems.

This is why Marx, for instance, was always banging on about "class consciousness" -- the working class would only overcome its various collective action problems if its members understood that they were all in this together.

if a class is defined by its ability to overcome those problems, then if there is a public goods problem and a delineation problem that are not, in fact, overcome - which is how things seem to me and you appear in your first sentence to be agreeing with this - then there is, in fact, no class. So the claim that the members of society form two classes is false.

Your defense of class theory seems, then, not to be a defense of it as a theory that describes society as it is, but rather a defense of it as an attempt to create the classes that it talks about by, as you say, raising "class consciousness", thereby overcoming the problems, thereby creating classes. That is not a theory of present society at all - it is a tactic to create a future society. But the theory is expressed as if it were a theory of present society. Thus it is deceptive (because the entities it describes, the classes, do not exist yet). It is deceptive in the interests of effecting the desired result. It is a lot like the classic technique of manipulation: you want somebody to go along with something, so you maneuver him into thinking that it was his idea all along. Only in this case, you want some people to form a class, so you tell them that they already form that class. This is a lie because they do not already form that class, because a class is defined by its ability to overcome the very problems that have not been overcome yet and which you are trying to overcome.

the exploiters are

People who work for the government at jobs that would not exist in a free society. (Firemen are off the hook, IRS agents are not).

Exploitation

It depends on the definition of "exploitation." Do you mean "recipients of net positive money from the government?" (That strikes me as a bad definition, but it seems to follow from your post)

It's a tempting definition

It's a tempting definition but it's a bad one. Many people (firefighters is my favorite example because it's hard to think of them as evil) do receive net positive money from the government but they also provide a useful service. The fact that they work for the government makes it impossible to know if their service is worth the money or not, there is no market so there is no price... we cannot know for sure if a firefighter is a net taker or a net receiver, same for a DEA agent, but we can make intelligent guesses about that.

Kevin Phillip's American

Kevin Phillip's American Theocracy gives a good indication of the exploiters. Military-industrial complex, an oil driven complex that includes the automobile industry, modern agribusiness, and suburbia. Aside from a few tokens in rural and urban America, little more than puppets, most of the people being exploited are in these two areas.

Anyone who, in conscience or

Anyone who, in conscience or in act, furthers the grip of the state on people. The policeman who stops someone out of authority for a drug check or identity check. The state employee that denies entry to the immigrant. The corporate exec who applies for a subsidy or lobbies for regulation. Defining such a class is akin to telling guilty from non-guilty out of the whole german people after WWII ended.

It can all be summed up in this simple definition: Anyone who sincerely believes, and acts upon, the belief that good, whatever it means to him/her, can be done forcefully.

Your definition fits too

Your definition fits too much people. Many people further the grip of the State because they are simply evil, they do not wish to profit from it, they just want to make people miserable. They do qualify as some "bad guys" but they are not technically exploiters. They're far worse than exploiters in fact, because you can buy your freedom out of an exploite.

Cost/Benefits of the State?

From Allen Thornton's "Laws of the Jungle:"

The economic system of the state is complicated, so complicated, in fact, that a suspicious mind might conclude that someone was trying to hide something. It is virtually impossible to calculate every cent you pay the government. Even if you could figure all the various taxes you pay in our economy, you could never add up all the taxes that are being passed on to you by others.

It is equally difficult to put a dollar value on each good and service you receive from the government. If you are a civil servant, are you gaining financially or losing by working for the state? From your point of view, what is the value of government subsidies for roads, for schools, for post offices, for parks, for anything else? If you work for an industry that depends on government contracts, how much are you gaining by the government's existence? How much is governmental charity or governmental foreign policy worth to you personally?

If you could discover how much you gain by government's existence and how much you pay for government, you could set the two figures side by side. Then you would know if you were a victim of the state or the state were victimizing others on your behalf.

Are Taxes and Government Evil?

Taxes are necessary. Tax dollars spent for defense and infrastructure are for the general good and can be justified. You can even argue that education, health care, and basic nutrition and housing are generally beneficial to society.
Do you really want the streets lined with beggars depending only on private charity for their means? Will the street cleaners shovel away the bodies of those who died in diabetic coma or cancer just because of lack of money for health care? Who will pay for the street cleaners, the pauper’s graves and so on? Let’s face it. You need a public sector. In my opinion, it should to be just big enough to satisfy those general needs that aren’t funded privately. In today’s world that can be considerable.
The amount needed is politically decided and will always be arguable.

Marxists see political power only in terms of oppression. Chairman Mao explained it this way “ Political power depends upon gun-barrels and inkwells.
Political power is an instrument by which one class oppresses another. As I see it, political power is the power to oppress others.”

I don’t look at it that way. Government may not always be entirely oppressive.
Potential oppressors are those who do not look at government as satisfying general needs but as a means of promoting a particular agenda. The far left wants to use government to redistribute of wealth and power. The main motivation that comes across is hostility toward the financially well off and the desire for retribution via forced redistribution of wealth so these people will no longer have their unfair “privilege.” I don’t think we have anything to worry about because the average voter may want to help the underdog but is not overwhelmingly filled with a leftist envy.

The right, on the other hand wants the government to enforce various social norms which need not be listed. All parties want to use government to get an advantage over others in economic matters. This is oppressive to the victims who don’t benefit and the resulting economic distortions hurt everyone. So government is about 2/3’s bad and one third good. These oppressors are kind of like termites, they are harmful and should be exterminated but you shouldn’t burn down the house to get rid of them.

fisking

Taxes are necessary.
No. You start with your conclusion, bad practice.
Tax dollars spent for defense and infrastructure are for the general good
How do you define the general good? I know what is good for me, but happiness is by definition an individual feeling, how can there be a "general good" ?
and can be justified.
Try.
You can even argue that education, health care, and basic nutrition and housing are generally beneficial to society.
How does something benefit "society" ? Only individuals perceive benefit. I perceive a lot of benefit from education, health care, food and housing, hence I buy those.
Do you really want the streets lined with beggars depending only on private charity for their means?
Why do you equate absence of taxes with streets line with beggars? How is depending on private charity worse/better than depending on public charity, per se?
Will the street cleaners shovel away the bodies of those who died in diabetic coma or cancer just because of lack of money for health care?
Of course not silly you, without taxes obviously they won't be any street cleaners.
Who will pay for the street cleaners, the pauper’s graves and so on?

No grave, we put them on a little chariot. Bring out your deads !
Let’s face it. You need a public sector.
Food is much more important than healthcare, according to you, if we don't socialize food, people will starve to death in the streets. Oddly enough, people starve to death when food is socialized.
In my opinion, it should to be just big enough to satisfy those general needs that aren’t funded privately.
My gf's need for a pony in my NYC appartment isn't fullfilled by the private sector, my evil landlord won't let us do it, and let's face it I can't afford it. Should that be publicly funded? How the hell do you define "need"? Need is infinite.
In today’s world that can be considerable.
The amount needed is politically decided and will always be arguable.

Until it's 0.
Marxists see political power only in terms of oppression. Chairman Mao explained it this way “ Political power depends upon gun-barrels and inkwells.
Indeed.
Political power is an instrument by which one class oppresses another. As I see it, political power is the power to oppress others.”

Truly.
I don’t look at it that way. Government may not always be entirely oppressive.
Government function with taxes, taxes are oppressive.
Potential oppressors are those who do not look at government as satisfying general needs but as a means of promoting a particular agenda.
Satisying general needs is a particular agenda.
The far left wants to use government to redistribute of wealth and power.
Wealth is not redistributed because it's not distributed in the first place, it's made.
The main motivation that comes across is hostility toward the financially well off and the desire for retribution via forced redistribution of wealth so these people will no longer have their unfair “privilege.”
Some call it jealousy.
I don’t think we have anything to worry about because the average voter may want to help the underdog but is not overwhelmingly filled with a leftist envy.
The average voter votes for the policy he likes to believe will help others.
The right, on the other hand wants the government to enforce various social norms which need not be listed. All parties want to use government to get an advantage over others in economic matters. This is oppressive to the victims who don’t benefit and the resulting economic distortions hurt everyone.
Distortions don't hurt anyone. Tortions hurt. Read my post about isodomy for that matter.
So government is about 2/3’s bad and one third good.
Government steals, murders and enslave people. How can it be "one third good". Oh do you mean the government has good in itself in a Darth Vader kind of way?
These oppressors are kind of like termites, they are harmful and should be exterminated but you shouldn’t burn down the house to get rid of them.
It's not a house, it's a torture rack. Burn it as well.

Free Market Corpse Removal

You are taking a hard line libertarian position,AB. I don’t see any examples where this has been proven to work in the modern age. There are counties such as India and most African countries with poorly funded public sectors. The results are not pretty. Ironically these societies have all practiced socialism at least on paper. The government successfully throttles any private initiative that might help the economy and allow it to collect taxes to provide for the public welfare so it has no funds or organizations to help the people but relies on foreign charity. You get a state of practical anarchy. I don’t see anything I like about this form of anarchy via government neglect. What if government bowed out? The natural result would be another government to replace the first one. Saying you would like to do without government is like saying you could do without cockroaches. But this is just a dream.

I do want to retract what I said about who would collect the bodies of those who died on the street because of lack of medical care. There is a free market solution. You and I could collect them and sell them to medical schools for dissection. Oh, drat, I forgot under anarchy doctors wouldn’t have to study anatomy. Everyone and anyone could be a doctor. Well we could sell them to the people who make movies like Night of the Living Dead and Weekend at Bernie’s, or for college students to dissect instead of a dead shark.

Disentangling complex causes

There are counties such as India and most African countries with poorly funded public sectors. The results are not pretty.

India was until recently highly socialist, and the various countries of Africa have had governments that actively interfere in the economy by such means as stealing everything of value. Before you can credibly blame the poor situation in India and in Africa on a particular cause, such as a "poorly funded public sector", you need to disentangle that factor from all the other factors and demonstrate that the other factors fail to sufficiently account for the poor situation. That is not easy to do, I expect. There are of course alternative ways for you to make your point, for example you could make it theoretically. But if you want to lean on empirical observations you need to deal with the problem of disentangling the various causes.

I mention as an aside that this point - that empirical evidence comes with the problem of disentangling the causes - can be extended to many other things.

 

Why can't we all go back to Africa?

I hear you. In Africa, as I see it central government clearly makes a bad situation worse. For example:
Friday June 10, 2005
The Guardian
President Robert Mugabe yesterday defended the razing of shanty towns and the arrest of thousands of street traders, which has left at least 200,000 people homeless, as a "vigorous clean-up campaign to restore sanity" to Zimbabwe's cities.
Mr Mugabe said. "The current chaotic state of affairs where [small businesses] operated ... in unregulated and crime-ridden areas could not have been tolerated for much longer," the president said at the state opening of parliament.
The president, who has led the country since winning majority rule in 1980, vowed to complete the takeover of 5,000 white-owned farms for redistribution to black Zimbabweans despite "residual problems".

When they left, colonial powers divided up Africa into “countries” with central governments run by professional politicians. In some cases they even established the rule of law and all the countries wrote constitutions. Prior to the early sixties while still under some colonial control, economies were growing, populations were exploding due to white healthcare and agricultural methods. Various foreign small merchant groups such as Lebanese, Pakistanis and Indians established businesses and even became doctors and teachers. All this was culturally foreign to Africa and when colonial powers left, it all went away, except for the presence of powerful central governments. The new leaders all preaching socialism and anti-colonialism while systematically looting their own countries, while parading around the United Nations in Dashiki’s demanding money from guilt ridden Westerners. Western countries spent billions in foreign aid on infrastructure such as international airports, while Western countries and Communist Russia, Cuba and Libya brought in millions of small arms to support of proxy wars.
It would have been better had the Africans had been allowed to return to their former state where tribal elders ruled, but perhaps modernization was irreversible.
Note how this prior form of African culture resembles anarchist ideals. No central government, no politicians, people do what they want, all activity and organization based on spontaneous human relations. Hay, the Africans had all this before the White man moved in!

To bad but we can’t go back to Africa. My own opinion is that the best chance for modern people is a minarchy where you have a strong, constitutionally limited, democratic government that supports the rule of law, property rights, some infrastructure, some social safety net, and defense and keeps out of people’s personal lives. Economically it would be 1920. Socially it would be 2007.

Can you explain what you

Can you explain what you mean by "socially" ?

More Irritating Buzz Words

My apologies for using a buzz word like “society” that sometimes pisses off libertarians.
Instead of explaining I thought I would list a few words and phrases that piss me off.
Levels
Closure
Community
Celebration of life
Mentoring
Nuanced and compassionate
Person
911
Meme
Meta
Spot on

How many clichés can you spot?

Mohammed Raj Buhoo, spokesperson for the Long Island Islamic community says that the identification of DNA traces of Mohammed Atta imbedded a piece of metal found at the World Trade Center will bring closure to families of 911 . “Mohammed’s life was spent mentoring others. He was a nuanced and compassionate man on many levels. BTW IMHO his death was a celebration of life, a meme for meta-Islamists everywhere. To be sure he ratcheted things up in his search for an even playing field. This was his defining moment but he was not alone in pushing the envelope. His life was a sea change and a new paradigm which is truly ironic.” He was spot on and his life was truly a validation of the old saying “If you build I will come.”

Or “Joe Smith, spokesperson for the raccoon eating community says that the identification of the remains of their mentor Shotgun Red, missing since visiting the World Trade Center on 911 brought closure to family members on many levels. Shotgun’s attitude toward coons was a nuanced and compassionate meme for meta-ethicists. Eatin coons was a celebration of life.”

Yea sure, it's all the white mans fault

"Hay, the Africans had all this before the White man moved in!"

You don't think that the "white man" had "tribal elders"? You think that Africas didn't have politicians before the "White man" showed up? I can see you've been exposed to a certain narrative that doesn't consider certain falsifying evidence. The evidence of the actual history of the world doesn’t jibe with your ideas about a golden age of Africa.

No matter where you go in the world there has been a history of locally peaceful and locally aggressive cultures. Sure there are backwaters where resources are so scarce that man cannot organize into large scale groups. Backwaters like the Alaskan tundra or the Kalahari Desert. Those genetically identical individuals move south into a place with more resources like South America and they become the Incas and the Aztecs who brutally exploit their neighbors.

Africans had empires just like the white man, and a long history of local conquest and rivalry. It's not just coincidence or the racially associated moral impurity of the white man that caused genocide in Rwanda. It's a long history of ethnic rivalry and imperialism between Hutus and Tutsis that lead to that tragedy. The layered caste system there is a not uncommon feature throughout the world prior to the white man ever arriving. It happens when one group invades another and makes them slaves, which is all very much compatible with "tribal elders". Often a third group will invade and just insert themselves as a new layer on top of the existing layer. The conquerors almost always view themselves as inherently superior.

To this day some of the most racist societies on the planet are run and populated by the "brown skinned peoples". This isn't something they learned from the Europeans. India has a horrible caste system based on what is essentially a racist view of the untouchables.

Racism doesn't even require the knowledge of genetics. One merely needs to associate immutable inferior characteristics with another ethnic group and then to treat them as a group instead of as individuals. It doesn't matter if the inferiority is presumed to be in intelligence, virility, moral character, or standing with a god. In every case there is a chosen people and some other groups to look down upon. It doesn't even matter who is in power or not. You can have white racists living in South Africa, Jews looking down their noses on the “Unchosen”, or African Americans advocating the moral inferiority of white people.

I can see you've got your own personal ideas on how things have played out culturally and socially in the world. I suggest you gather evidence outside whatever group you've been hanging out with and rethink your beliefs.

You think it’s cool to be dis’n the white race and
shows how non-racist you are. Well no matter what color you are still perpetuating racial stereotypes. Stop it.

Is anarchism a noble savage fantasy?

I really made my White Man statement half jokingly. It was like a sign I saw. "When White man found the land, Indians were running it. No taxes, no debt, plenty buffalo, women did all the work, medicine man free, Indian man spent all day hunting and fishing, all night having sex. Then the White man came and thought he could improve things.”

Far be it from me to engage in trans- temporal finger pointing, subscribe to noble savage theories or blame all bad things on the modern Anglo Saxon culture and capitalism. To the contrary I think these are antidotes to many of mankind’s ills. However, it does seem that when less powerful societies interact with more powerful societies the less powerful ones suffer, whether intentionally or unintentionally.Was Africa better off or worse off after European contact?

The thought did cross my mind that extreme forms of anarchism in advocating the abolition of the state might be engaging in noble savage fantasies, as if doing away with government and getting back to the natural ways of the imagined past would bring Utopia.

Yell at me if this is a

Yell at me if this is a straw man, but libertarian class analysis, at least as it has been presented to me, seems to take a naive view of human nature.  The argument goes that without a state, there would be no conflict because it simply would not be beneficial to do so.  Only trade is beneficial, so humans naturally cooperate with each other and conflict is nonexistant.  Only when the state is introduced does conflict occur because of the tension which is created between the exploited and the exploiter.

The problem is that, being humans, we always have something to fight about.  No state is needed for religious or ideological conflict.  It seems highly unlikely that there would be no conflict without the state.  The state certainly exacerbates conflict to some degree, so one could argue that this is what libertarian class analysis is saying.   However, the state also happens to suppress conflict in many ways (police force, protection of property rights, etc).  Without some empirics, it's unclear whether or not the introduction of the state has a net reduction on conflict. 

I'm also not sure about the definition of conflict.  Does mass murder count as conflict or do both parties have to be shooting? 

~Matt

???

Yell at me if this is a straw man, but libertarian class analysis, at least as it has been presented to me, seems to take a naive view of human nature. The argument goes that without a state, there would be no conflict because it simply would not be beneficial to do so.

Really? While I am skeptical of libertarian class analysis, I don't get this from it. Maybe I haven't been paying attention. However, anarchistic libertarians are keenly aware of the inevitability of conflict and the need to deal with it even in the absence of a state. I would imagine that those who are pushing libertarian class analysis are either minimal-state libertarians, in which case your critique simply does not apply to them, or else anarchist libertarians (anarcho-capitalists), in which case surely they are aware, as most anarcho-capitalists are, of the inevitability of conflict and the need to deal with it.

I guess the key is when I

I guess the key is when I say how it has been presented to me.  Other than Caplan's posts over at Econlog and this post, I have only had one other exposure to libertarian class analysis- a presentation by Stephen Carson of the Mises Institute (oddly enough, it wasn't when I went to Mises U, class analysis wasn't mentioned in any of the lectures I attended).  Carson drew on Rothbard primarily and mentioned that Rothbard was essentially rehashing Calhoun's view.  My notes have a conveniant gap during the beginning of his presentation, but I remember him mentioning that because of the mutually beneficial nature of exchanges, it takes a state to introduce conflict.  I take it that this isn't quite the standard version of the analysis.  I'm beginning to think I misinterpreted Carson here.

The point of his presentation wasn't class analysis, but figuring out why governments are able to mass murder so effectively.  In that regard, his presentation was fantastic (if I get the right combo of time and motivation I may post on it).  The bit of class analysis was simply a segue into presenting his paper.

~Matt

I don't think Richman fully

I don't think Richman fully explored what defines the exploiting class. Like a lot of small-government folks, he thinks taxation is the main social ill that the state brings. But the state has more than the power of taxing. Its extensive regulatory bureaucracy shifts, destroys, and concentrates much wealth.
Interestingly, if we look at most federal government spending, we see that most of the money gets sloshed around the middle class - the working middle-class pays for a lot of the retired middle-class. So it looks like the exploitation is mostly a net zero, with a little skim off the top. But looking at the regulatory state, we can see who really benefits from this system: big politically-connected corporations. They get to use the state to squeeze out competitors, to offload their transportation, communication, and pollution costs, and to overcome skepticism of products not locally built. The exploiting class doesn't need to have the state cut them a check if the state picks up the tab for the things they want and need. I think that's the US, as it is today.
For a view on local exploitation, Kev Carson has a lot to say about the local development agencies, the "Cockroach Caucuses".

I would throw in the caveat

I would throw in the caveat that treating the exploiters and exploited as coextensive with the divide between public and private sectors is misleading, because the division between them is more apparent than real.

Brad Spangler's analogy of the gunman and the bagman is relevant here. The state is not just the nominally "public" figure who holds the gun on you. The state is also the nominally "private" figure who holds the bag and collects the loot. That means the entire constellation of corporate interests whose profits wouldn't exist without the state really *are* part of the state.

This doesn't require inferring moral complicity from the mere fact that they benefit. There is actual rotation of personnel between the nominal public and private sectors, with what amounts to an interlocking directorate of centralized government agencies and large corporations, and the same human beings circulating back and forth between them. C. Wright Mills had it right on this. The state capitalist sector of the economy is not just parasitic on the state, it is the state, in the same sense that landlords were the state under the Old Regime.