New Libertarian Notes interviews RAW, Part Two, RAW vs. Austrians
CRNLA -- Your economic views still seem very much in the Benjamin Tucker tradition (especially on rent and interest.) Have you read any of the "Austrian" economists, such as Von Mises and Rothbard? What do you think of them?
RAW: Tucker is certainly a major influence. My economic ideas are a blend of Tucker, Spooner, Fuller, Pound, Henry George, Rothbard, Douglas, Korzybski, Proudhon and Marx. I always try to be inclusive, rather than exclusive. Read to see what I can learn from every school, rather than condemning any idea in its entirety. "Every man has the right to have his ideas examined one at a time," as Ez Pound once wrote. Rothbard is, like Marx and Pound, a brilliant closed mind: excellent for stimulation but anybody who gets dragged into a Rothbardian dogmatic trance should take LSD and try looking at the world through another grid. Von Mises is another who is excellent for stimulation, pernicious if erected into dogma. By and large, the Austrians remind me of a parable by Laurance Labadie, in which a certain tribe has the custom of allowing high-caste individuals to kick low-caste individuals in the butt whenever they pass them in the street. A philosophical school, much like the Austrians, naturally arises to prove rationally that the kicking is not only necessary but just, inevitable, beautiful and altogether glorious. If there were big profits in cancer, there'd undoubtedly be an Austrian school of medicine, proving that carcinoma is good for us.
CRNLA: Tucker is one of my favorite people -- but one of his views with which I can't agree is that in a free society interest rates and rent would disappear. I think the Austrians have advanced economic knowledge sufficiently since Tucker's day to show why these things exist and how they would come about even in an economy consisting totally of free trade. Your reply?
RAW: You can "prove" anything on the verbal level, just be accepting the necessary axioms at the beginning. Empirically, I don't think they can produce a single case in history where a free people elected landlords to own the land; the land monopoly always starts with conquest. Shot and shell are the coins of purchase, as Herbert Spencer said. Except by force of arms, nobody "owns" the earth, anymore than the moon, the planets, the stars themselves. When did God disinherit the majority of humanity, and turn all space over to the "ownership" of the Rockefellers and their friends? Without armed power threatening us, why would anyone but a fool continue to pay these conquistadores the extortion they demand? And, even if the Austrians could convince me that rent is legitimate, I still wouldn't voluntarily pay it to the present landlord class who remain receivers of stolen property. I would pay it to the nearest Indian tribe.
As for interest, I'm not aware of any case in which the credit monopoly has allowed a free currency to compete with them. In fact, every case I know of (e.g. Worgl in the 1930s), ended when the Capitalists used the armed might of the State to stop the competition. The one laboratory experiment in this field, by Don Werkheiser at Central State University in Ohio, confirmed Tucker and refuted the Austrians. Money, after all, is an abstract artifact, like language -- merely symbolized by the paper or coin or whatever. If you can fully grasp its abstractedness, especially in the computer age, it becomes quite clear that no group can monopolize this abstraction, except through a series of swindle. The average primate cannot distinguish the symbol from the referrent, the map from the territory, the menu from the meal. If the usurers had been bolder, they might have monopolized language as well as currency, and people would be saying we can't write more books because we don't have enough words, the way they now say we can't build starships, because we don't have enough money. As Bucky Fuller says, you might as well argue we can't build roads because we lack kilometers.
CRNLA: I think our differences in "rent" are basically in "land-rent" -- you don't see anything wrong if someone wants to rent out power tools and U-haul trailers -- true?
Your main argument with land-rent seems to be with the lack of legitimate owners. I'm assuming legitimate (i.e. non-conquistador) owners when I speak of legitimate rent. If two people went to Mars or the bottom of the ocean and one of them spent his time clearing rocks and fertilizing a section of land and the other spent his time assembling a tractor, and they reach an agreement to exchange the use of the land for one season for the use of the tractor for one season -- has anyone been harmed or exploited or extorted? Should some third party come onto the scene and say, "Hey stop that, you're committing rent?"
RAW: Land-rent, or ground-rent, is the most illegitimate aspect of the rent con, of course, and the main target of Tucker's criticisms. The whole concept of any rent, however, appears somewhat dubious to me, since it seems to presuppose "the accumulation of property in a few aristocratic heaps, at the expense of a great deal of democratic bare ground in between," as Ezra Heywood said. (Heywood's writings on this subject, and other aspects of libertarianism, are at least as important as Tucker's and Spooner's.) People rent, chiefly, when they cannot afford to purchase outright -- when ground-rent, interest and other inequalities haver already created a master-class of aristocrat-owners and a servile class of peasants or proles. I would expect to see rent wither away as the democratization of credit abolishes poverty.
I fail to see how your hypothetical "legitimate (i.e. non-conquistador) owners" would achieve "ownership." (I also don't see the bearing of such hypothetical, or fictitious, cases on the real issues of the real world, where all the landlords are conquistadors, or are receivers of stolen property from the original conquistadors, but that is another question.)
Ownership, in the real world, is a social agreement, a social fiction almost, and is produced only by force or by fraud or by contract. In practice, land ownership is produced only by force or fraud.
This may sound polemic, but it is literally true. The Henry George Schools have a book, Land Title Origins: A Tale of Force and Fraud, in which you can look up, wherever you live in the United States, exactly the acts of force and fraud (murder and robbery) by which land "ownership" was transferred from the Indian tribes to the current receivers of the stolen property. Now, the third alternative, contract, has never been tried, to the best of my knowledge. The only land contracts which I, or any other Tuckerites or Sternerites, would sign in freedom, without force being used against us, would be to our own interest, not to the interest of the landlords. In other words, we simply would not sign a contract giving up ownership of this planet, or any other, to a small group of the Elite who claim they have some better title to ownership than the rest of us have. If you would sign such a contract, I can only hint gently that you are more easily defrauded than we are.
The barter arrangement in your paradigm has nothing to do with perpetual tribute, which is the essence of rent -- indeed, the factor distinguishing barter from rent.
Of course, since Austrian ideas exist as factors in human behavior, I will admit that some people, hoodwinked by those ideas, will continue to pay rent even in freedom, for a while at least. But I think that, after a time, observing that their Tuckerite neighbors are not submitting to this imposture, they would come to their senses and cease paying tribute to the self-elected "owners" of limitless space, on this and other planets, and in interplanetary communities.
Of course, I myself would not pay rent one day beyond the point at which the police ("hired guns, on guard to see that property remains stolen" as Emma Goldman said) are at hand to collect it via "argument per blunt instrument."
CRNLA: Regarding interest: again I assume a totally free market, where there are no legal tender laws and anyone is free to mint, mine, print or grow anything that they feel the market will accept for money. I think that under these conditions the interest rate would be dramatically lower than it presently is but that it would not tend toward zero. Money generally performs at least three interrelated functions: (1) indirect exchange media, (2) provides a common "measuring scale," (3) stores wealth. In the first two money is definitely an "abstract artifact" -- a "cashless" society could exist merely using bookkeeping entries. But when it's used to store wealth it causes trouble as an "abstract" -- bank-runs and the like. Wealth isn't an abstract. It may be subjectively appraised, but it actually exists. When A wants to use B's wealth for a period of time, B is generally compensated for his loss of its use for that period by A -- interest. Among corporations (admittedly, a legal fiction) the issuing of "Tucker-money," (i.e., stock) is a fairly unfettered means of obtaining credit -- but the people who give it to them still expect a return and the corporations still expect to pay it. I'd be interested in seeing the Central State experiment. Usually because of the multiplicity of ever-changing factors involved in the market, it's difficult if not impossible to ever prove anything empirically.
RAW: Of course, my position is based on the denial that money does store wealth. I think it's a semantic hallucination, the verbal equivalent of an optical illusion, to speak at all of money containing or storing wealth. Such thinking should have gone out with phlogiston theory. The symbol is not the referent; the map is not the territory. Money symbolizes wealth, as words symbolize things, and that's all. The delusions that money contains wealth is the mechanism by which the credit monopoly hof study. as gained a stranglehold on the entire economy. As Colonel Greene pointed out in Mutual Banking, all the money could disappear tomorrow morning and the wealth of the planet would remain the same. However, if the wealth disappeared -- if squinks from the Pink Dimension dragged it off to null-space or something -- the money would be worth nothing. You don't need to plow through the dialects of the debate between the Austrians and the free credit people like Tucker and Gesell to see this; any textbook of semantics will make it clear in a few hours of study. Wealth is nature's abundance, freely given, plus the exponential advance of technology via human intelligence, and as Korzybski and Fuller demonstrate, this can only increase an an accelerating rate. Money is just the tickets or symbols to arrange for the distribution -- either equitably, in a free money system, or inequitably, as under the tyranny of the present money-cartel. As you realize, a cashless society could exist merely by keeping bookkeeping entries or computer tapes. Money is a primitive form of such computer tapes, serving a feedback function. If we are not to replace the present banking oligopoly with a programmer's oligopoly, in which the interest will be paid to computer technicians, we must realize that this is all a matter of abstract symbolism -- that it exists by social agreement and nobody owns it, anymore than Webster owns the language. Why is it, incidentally, that the Austrians don't follow their logic to its natural conclusion and demand that we pay interest to the dictionary publishers every time we speak or write?
You have to watch people playing Monopoly, and see them begin to "identify" the paper markers with real value, to understand how the mass hypnosis of Capitalism works. Fortunately, the Head Revolution is still proceeding and more and more people are waking up to the difference between our economic game-rules and the real existential situation of humanity.
Don Werkheiser might sell you a Xerox of his thesis on the Central State experiment if you write to him c/o General Delivery, Ponca, Arkansas. Similar experiments are recounted in Josiah Warren's True Civilization, involving four communes in 19th Century America. Let me conclude this answer by emphasizing that I do not blame the money-monopologists for any of their hoarding behavior. I am sure you will find similar absurdities in the primitive stages of anthropoid civilizations on most planets of G-type stars. Mammalian patterns persist in many other aspects of our society, especially in organized religions.
In my experience, I might add, virtually all adherents of the Austrian economic theories are academics who have never had any dealings with Capitalist corporations. The rosy view the Austrians have of these matters, I think, would collapse in two weeks if they had to deal with the damned corporate pirates as an ordinary worker does. When Joyce went into business briefly, he told Italo Svevo after a while, "You know, I think my partners are cheating me." Svevo answered, "You only think your partners are cheating you! Joyce, you are an artist!" Nixon is the typical Capitalist mentality, entirely identical in all aspects with every businessman I have ever encountered; his only real distinction is that he got caught. Of course, I'm not complaining -- part of the humor of living on this backward planet is listening to the hominids rationalize their predations.
CRNLA: I don't think that the Austrians have a particularly "rosy" view of business. I know a lot of them (Mises and Rothbard for two) consider a total separation of the economy and the government to be the best means of keeping these clowns from becoming too powerful. Most consider a totally free market to be the ultimate in "consumerism" -- not "capitalism" (at least as it's come to be known.)
RAW: Well, there is certainly a kinship between the Austrians and myself on the level of ultimate goals. I merely feel that their views of Capitalism-as-practised-in-the-past-and-present could only be held by college professors. After more than 20 years of working for the corporations in every position from office boy to middle executive, I have not been shocked or surprised in the slightest by the Watergate or post-Watergate scandals.
Austrians believe what they write, they must be somewhat abashed, I should think. For instance, David Friedman has published views about the corporate elite that would be flattering if applied to Jesus and his angels. However, this is turning into a diatribe against the group I find least obnoxious in the whole politico-economic spectrum (because you keep asking me questions that harp on my differences with them.) The orthodox conservatives and liberals, not to mention nazis and marxists, are really pernicious, and the Austrian libertarians are basically okay.
CRNLA: Regarding our Rent Interest discussion: I think that our differences regarding money stem from a difference in definitions. I would include wealth that is used in certain ways under the heading "money," while you limit the definition to just its transactional functions. OK, as long as we know where we are. Once we start dealing with this "wealth-money" as wealth (and forget the word "money"), the problem of interest becomes just a special case of rent. Which really brings us back to property and ownership. I've never attempted to tie the concept of ownership to the metaphysical framework of the universe. I realize that it's merely a human invention -- much like language (which is not to say that other inhabitants of the planet don't use it also) that's purpose is to make the allocation of resources go as smoothly and efficiently and with the least amount of head-cracking as possible. Like the use of language, the use of the concept of "property" doesn't necessarily have to be enforced. When people discover it they use it because it's in their long-range self-interest to do so. (This is not to say that particular instances don't require enforcement -- just that the concept is usually retained without it.) The whole system of ownership/division of labor/rent transactions etc. is merely designed to allocate resources so that they maximize the "vector sum" of everyone's satisfaction -- or more accurately, that this system has the potential to maximize. You don't have to use it. Without this system some alternative method must be found to determine who gets the use of what. LeGuin faced this problem in The Dispossessed. She chose to do it collectively. Ultimately, this results in some system of voting or represenatives or syndics which bear striking resemblance to governments (in addition to being very inefficient.) So the so-called "anarchy" in The Dispossessed is actually a widespread proliferation of governments and poverty. If the determination of the use of resources is placed in the hands of the individual who makes the resources useful (i.e., grows, finds, fertilizes, builds on, digs up, etc.) this provides him with a good deal of independence from the rest of the herd. Seems like a natural for any anarchistic society. This is basically the idea behind my concept of ownership. Could you give a summary of what you consider to be a good method of allocating resources and any concepts similar to ownership that might be contained therein?
RAW: Since ownership is a social fiction, it should obviously be fluid and sensitive to decentralized feedback, to match the evolving needs of the persons involved in whatever social game is being played. In other words, I do not propose one "right way" of doing it; that has to be found pragmatically in each new situation. The traditional feudal-Capitalist system in which one hereditary group of Great Pirates "owns" everything is not acceptable to me, and obviously would not be acceptable to any band of Stirnerite egoists; and, of course, the altruistic forms of socialism and communism are equally unacceptable to me, and I predict they would be equally unacceptable to a band of self-owners in the Stirnite, Tucker or Crowley sense. What would emerge in such a rationalistic-egoistic context would, in a general way, probably follow the guidelines suggested by Stirner, Spooner, Proudhon and Tucker -- except that this would only be in a general way, as all of those writers realized. The specific individuals in each situation would define their own demands according to the specific situation always. The only contracts that would be acceptable to them, as Tucker indicated, would be those that require no enforcement -- that is, those that are so obviously in the enlightened self-interest of each member that their wording would be accepted with the satisfaction the scientific world feels when a hard question is finally answered. If the proposed contract did not have that self-evident feeling character about it -- if it didn't provoke the general feeling, "This is the answer to our disagreements" -- it would not be accepted. I speak with some experience here, being part of an occult order who do indeed govern themselves that way. My only general rules are Crowley's "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" and Leary's Three Commandments for the Neurological Age, to wit: "Thou shalt not alter the consciousness of thy neighbor, 2. Thou shalt not prevent thy neighbor from altering his or her own consciousness, 3. Thou shalt make no more commandments." The so-called "resources" problem is a terracentric delusion. The Universe is a Big Mother.