Words Beyond the Market and the State, Pt. II
By Diego Avila and Luis Ricardo Vera. Date: August 28, 2020.
An Interview With Kevin Carson
Here we bring the second part of the interview with Kevin Carson, made by Diego Avila and Luis R. Vera. To access the first part click here. In this part, we finish with the questions related to the counter-economy and Venezuela as other parts of Latin America, as well as some questions about the evolution of Kevin Carson’s thought over the years and his brief opinions on the work of Bryan Caplan, like Jason Brennan on democracy. Without further ado, we leave you the following part:
13. Because of the crisis, many Venezuelans have turned to countereconomic activities, but more as means of survival. What do you think of those activities in totalitarian states? Does a Venezuelan countereconomy find insoluble problems?
KC: I don’t think there are insoluble problems. There are certainly different degrees of constraint on freedom of action. But so long as there’s even limited freedom of action, by taking the most feasible actions first, it’s possible to use the benefits from those actions as leverage for other actions. In particular, when communities avail themselves of the options that require the least immediate investment of material resources — i.e. saving seed from market produce to raise vegetables in community gardens, etc., so as to maximize food independence and resilience — the increased productivity and savings free up further resources for stocking community repair shops with used tools to keep machinery running, etc. Likewise mutual aid practices for pooling risk, which increases collective resilience against economic shocks. Communities that take the approach of mapping all the common resources already available that are not currently put to full productive use, or the tools and other resources possessed by individuals that are mostly idle, and planning to put them all to full productive use, often find that their range of possibilities is much greater than they initially thought. And identifying the bottlenecks in the local economy — especially the ones that can be built out most cheaply — and applying the productivity from the previous development to fund that build-out, can bootstrap further local development.
14. A usual characteristic of counter economies is that they’re about “simple” goods and services such as cigarettes, books, or painting houses. We don’t usually see them take on complex goods and services like housing, cars or banking. How do you think counter economies could hand these things?
KC: This brings us back to the potential of open-source micro-manufacturing technology, permaculture, and the like, and models of local economic bootstrapping based on import substitution as discussed by everyone from Jane Jacobs to Colin Ward to Karl Hess. Ward and Hess both advocated community workshops equipped with unused tools owned by individual members, which I already discussed above. And all three of those thinkers discussed a model of local manufacturing through import substitution that starts off custom-machining replacement parts for machinery and appliances, and gradually evolves into distributed manufacturing of entire appliances (the model Jacobs mentioned was Japanese bicycle factories, which evolved from individual bicycle repair shops custom-machining replacement parts and then gradually networking to produce entire bicycles). This is aided by a revolution in low-cost tabletop machine tools suitable for local production. If you take a look at the Global Village Construction Set, a complete ecology of cheap, open-source, modular-designed production machinery and farm tools developed by Factor e Farm, you get the idea.
And housing is something that, in fact, people have done amazing things to produce from very limited materials, through sheer ingenuity, in favelas throughout Latin America as well as in the kinds of worker-built homes Colin Ward wrote about.
As for cars, most of the capital-intensive forms of production machinery required to make them are a result of design choices, not inherent. The enormous engine blocks of an American automobile, from the 30s on, were chosen to enable the rapid acceleration during highway driving; that engine capacity was needed only a small minority of the time. An automobile designed primarily for supplementary needs in a community centered on foot, bicycle, bus, streetcar, etc., transportation, or for bringing light loads to and from people on the outskirts of a community, could function perfectly well with an electric motor. The two-story stamping presses in Detroit are required only because of the aesthetic choice for molded body panels; it would be perfectly feasible to cut body panels out of flat sheet metal on a cutting table, on the pattern of old-style US Post Office trucks. And so on….
And banking only requires preexisting capital if you are bound by laws that restrict the supply of credit to those with stocks of such capital. But as I argued in one of the essays linked above, credit is functionally just a system of producers advancing their current production to each other and requires no savings from past production. Rightfully speaking, it should be organized entirely as a system of horizontal flows, and this could be done through something like Thomas Greco’s mutual credit model.
15. For this question, we ought to introduce a thinker:
Abraham Guillén was a Spanish anarchist who is of real interest to anarchists around here. A friend called him Spain’s Kevin Carson, and your ideas are indeed similar. He defended a free market socialism in the manner of Tucker, but asserted that such a thing would eventually lead to a post-scarcity anarchocommunism. [Info: https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Guill%C3%A9n]
What do you make of all this? Did you know Guillén? Regardless, what do you think of his ideas? Does free market libertarian socialism lead to anarchist communism? It is interesting to see a sketch of such self managed market theories in the twentieth century.
KC: I am vaguely familiar with him but not with with his economic ideas. In recent years I have shifted from identifying as a market anarchist or individualist anarchist to an anarchist without adjectives. That is, I reject hyphenated anarchisms that envision a post-state society organized around any particular economic template like markets, syndicates, etc. I believe the successor society will be an emergent phenomenon growing out of all the different counter-institutions people are building now out of practical necessity, rather than being organized in accordance with any monolithic ideological model. So it will be an eclectic mixture of expedients that varies from one area to the next.
As such, I suspect there will be a mix of markets and communism, with the lines between them being very blurry. Just my own personal guess, but I expect that most consumption goods like food, clothing, furniture, etc., and most household appliances that are amenable to production in small-scale shops, will most likely be produced in the workshops and gardens of micro-villages and other multi-family co-living arrangements, in which a guaranteed “irreducible minimum” of subsistence (in Bookchin’s terms) is every member’s by birthright. Markets will exist (probably coexisting with federal or syndical arrangements, with one or the other predominating from area to area) primarily in things like heavy producer goods and the surpluses produced by local communities. But it’s just my guess. The main thing I’m pretty sure of, like Graeber, is that almost nowhere will people be willing to recognize absentee titles to unused land, or to work for wages for absentee owners when they can just tear down the fence and work for themselves.
16. Mr. Carson it is known that in the past you were on board with paleoconservatives ideas. In recent years some paleolibertarians have approached the ideas of left wing market anarchism. What do you make of this? How have your cultural views evolved?
KC: I think what you’re referring to is in the Nineties, before I became an anarchist. For a period of several years I flirted with traditionalist Catholicism, and with classical conservative ideas — especially those like agrarianism and distributism that were amenable to economic decentralism or populism. Along with these ideas I also embraced the social conservatism of trad Catholicism, I’m embarrassed to say in retrospect.
It was further research into the implications of economic decentralism that led me leftward and to embracing anarchism. And it was anarchism, combined — in roughly the same time frame — with going online and encountering marginalized people outside my insulated bubble, that caused me to shift leftward on social issues fairly rapidly and abandon that regrettable baggage.
I’ve never embraced paleoconservatism as such, although at one point — in the early 2000s — I was more open to tactical alliances with them. But over the years I’ve become increasingly hostile. Rothbard, in my opinion, abandoned anything of value in his past thought and embraced evil in his later paleolibertarian days, and Lew Rockwell was his partner in an evil project. And Hoppeanism has been a pipeline to outright fascism.
I’m glad that the time I adhered to socially conservative ideas was before I accessed the online world or had any work published, so that I had no opportunity to influence anyone with those harmful ideas. Even so, I feel a special obligation to openly embrace anti-racism, feminism and LGBT rights now, and to fight privilege, because of those past beliefs. And I’m thankful I left them behind.
17. Recently we have seen authors like Jason Brennan and Michael Huemer attack the state on a common sense morality basis. Brennan has had a rough relationship with left libertarians and they have controversially defended academia. What do you make of their ideas and arguments? Do you agree with their thoughts on academia?
KC: I’m not familiar with Huemer’s position, but I’m pretty adamantly opposed to Brennan’s positions on academia — particular the struggle of adjunct workers for fair pay and working conditions. For me the primary evil in academia is all the structural irrationalities and moral hazards inherent in their responsibility to the absentee state and business interests represented on boards of trustees, and the bureaucratic hierarchies that govern them. Exploding administrative overhead, skyrocketing tuition, construction boondoggles, the obsessive focus on athletics as a cash cow, and the precaritization of faculty, are all inevitable results of this. I would favor a model of reform centered on stakeholder cooperative governance (possibly based on a revival of the medieval Bologna model Paul Goodman discussed in Community of Scholars), and the kinds of ad hoc, low-overhead expedients Goodman discussed in People or Personnel.
18. Notably, Bryan Caplan has attacked modern electoral systems, saying voters tend to be irrational and make bad, biased choices. On the other hand, you support the new municipalism as a prefigurative policy, such would participate in voting to transform institutions into a “municipal partner state” to pass to “the administration of things”; Do Caplan’s work clash with or complement what you’ve written? What do you think of his work?
KC: Caplan’s views on democracy clash with mine — as do Jason Brennan’s which are quite similar. The problem, in both cases, is that they treat immaculate “expertise” as something that exists independent of class or institutional interest, and ignore the ways in which the orthodoxies of (say) professional economists implicitly reflect such interests. So it’s very well to say “economists all agree that free trade is good, which those ignorant yokels who vote for Trump or Bernie are too stupid to understand.” But the institutional assumptions behind neoliberal economics are betrayed by the fact that orthodox economists use the term “free trade” in reference to an international system of intellectual property protectionism that enforces global corporations’ monopoly over outsourced goods, combined with multilateral gunboat diplomacy to enforce capitalists’ titles to looted and enclosed farmland, mineral resources, and the like, and the use of debt blackmail to compel crony capitalist privatizations of the commons.
Creating a collection of philosopher kings based on “expertise” will absolutely guarantee the making of policy designed to enable economic rent extraction by the economic classes whose interests the “expertise” of orthodox economists reflects.
I agree with Chris Dillow, an anti-managerialist British Marxist who maintains the Stumbling and Mumbling blog, that everyone is prone to cognitive biases, and that large, centralized, and hierarchical systems are beyond rational management by anybody. The solution is to scale down institutions as much as possible to the point that day to day decisions made at the lowest level — in commons-based local institutions, worker-managed enterprises, and the like — based on the distributed knowledge of those in direct contact with the situation.