Gabriel’s Mutualism

Mutualism identifies the near-infinite problems of current markets and attempts to get rid of these by first of all getting rid of the state. If I understand it correctly, mutualism is essentially based on the cost principle. The cost principle means that “market actors themselves will engage only in transactions where the benefits are sufficient to pay for the real costs.”

This should in theory amount to a fair society. However, I am concerned with potential long-term effects. Since market actors all operate from a subjective environment, they might not have the knowledge needed to obtain the right price, they might not care about obtaining the right price, they might be coerced by their emotions or by a desire for increased social status that would affect which price they demand. In addition, there is no principle which prevents accumulation of capital. Accumulation ultimately leads to inequality, enabling e.g. organizations that could enforce property rights (like a state) and also poses a problems for e.g. people who are disabled. The market functions you’ve mentioned are designed to lessen the effects, hinder or slow down accumulation, but if you acknowledge the dangers of accumulation, would it not be better to abandon the system than trying to implement reforms that ensure that the system remains in place and only attempts to make it less bad? (By “remains” I refer to a time after mutualism has already been implemented, I’m not suggesting that mutualism is a mere reformation of the current state-capitalist system.)

You claim that communist and gift economies are hierarchical and thus not a better option. I think there are theoretical left-anarchist systems that would prevent hierarchies at least as well as mutualism, in addition to the practical example of sharing food employed by some San people. I think your idea of gift economies is based on cultures that have barter as their basis and only use gifts as social symbols, rather than basing their economy on mutual aid. Although I can’t present a functional example, I think such economies could possibly exist and that it’d be wrong to advocate for mutualism only on the grounds that there is no better alternative.

In conclusion, despite the concerns I’ve voiced, if I’ve understood you correctly, and if there is no better alternative, then I will side with you.

3 Responses to “Gabriel’s Mutualism”

  1. enleuk Says:

    Hey. I wanted to apologize for never replying to your blog post about my market anarchism. The truth of the matter is that I don’t explicitly disagree with what you presented in the post. I’d first point out that Mutualism is a much more diverse tradition than Tucker’s free market socialism — which I largely follow — and that people like Shawn Wilbur are well-worth looking into. He is interested in market functions as contextual tools but also other forms of organization that might countervail the factors you mentioned for maintaining a genuinely non-hierarchical and anarchistic society. (I have an explicit market anarchist focus out of habit, but I recognize that just reducing things to what market actors will probably do, based on economic dogma X, only gets me so far.) I think gift economies certainly serve a purpose, and should exist within a higher-order “anarchy of production” that addresses contextually sensitive needs and such. However, I strongly oppose the historical gift economies that communists praise — as you pointed out — and I don’t think that they can overcome calculation problems and Hayekian knowledge problems as they scale. (Which is not /necessarily/ of a problem ipso facto; they seem necessarily localized and not globalized and hegemonous.) Mutualism, in general, has been quite friendly to communistic systems. It usually welcomes non-market left-anarchist alternatives to pick up the slack where markets or any other form of interaction might fail. I’m just a bit more cynical, on the other hand, and have not been satisfied with (most) non-market alternatives proposed. There is a lot of “anti-right-libertarianism” signaling going on with Mutualism which has stripped us of our identity, and declawed relevant critiques against certain traditions in Anarchism that date back to Proudhon.

    As for the worry you mentioned here:

    “Accumulation ultimately leads to inequality, enabling e.g. organizations that could enforce property rights (like a state) and also poses a problems for e.g. people who are disabled. The market functions you’ve mentioned are designed to lessen the effects, hinder or slow down accumulation, but if you acknowledge the dangers of accumulation, would it not be better to abandon the system than trying to implement reforms that ensure that the system remains in place and only attempts to make it less bad?”

    I think /unequal/ accumulation leads to inequality, as seen in history. However, in conditions of free credit, free access to land, technology, &c. – I am not so sure. I do not see my praxis as just reforming an existing system, to be honest. In a limited sense I am a market abolitionist – I want to dispose of anything that looks like the actually-existing markets we see today. I look at various interventions in the state-capitalist economy on a structural level, and I think that “markets freed from capitalism” would take on a very different character. I don’t so much focus on capital accumulation itself, but on capital concentration. Relentless capital accumulation as dispersed across a wide array of individual actors is undoubtedly a good thing. It simply means enrichment in that case. It is only when collective actors have the economic and political power to enforce their will on others that we encounter state-like distortions. I think free market anarchism provides the best system of checks and balances against that. I hold the same worry you have, but I view it as a more general problem: Whether it’s social capital accumulation in communistic systems, or private capital accumulation in capitalistic systems. Monopoly and privilege remain threats all the same. What I believe market anarchism provides is an important right of “economic exit” against commune-based forms of production and socialization, as well as the profit-leveling conditions of free competition and equal access to resources that contrasts it against capitalist systems.

    The purest form of market anarchism kind-of entails reduction diminishing of markets and their dominant presence vis-a-vis actually-existing capitalism. Local gift economies, household barter in rural economies, &c. are all legitimate and convenient means of bypassing the capitalist cash nexus, and would likely continue to exist in an anarchistic society that hosts markets in its lifetime.

    I overall agree with the “long-term” worry you have. I can’t possibly propose a system, or an answer, or doctrine that guarantees that any X system will maintain its anarchic and non-hierarchical base. I think that the systems I propose are the most likely to succeed and last as long as they can, but that’s about it. So I would echo, to you, the same sentiment you expressed to me in your blog post: “In conclusion, despite the concerns I’ve voiced, if I’ve understood you correctly, and if there is no better alternative, then I will side with you.”

    *I’d add that I’d have the same complaints about replicating social capitalism and hierarchy in theoretical, alternative gift economies and such. However, I’d definitely be willing to see them play out and whether they can empirically falsify my worry.

    enleuk
    Thanks for replying🙂 I’m not sure if I’m able to adress everything, but I gave it a go.

    I’m not sure what you mean by social capital. In a traditional gift economy, the gifts concern social status yes, but when the gifts are “dumped” on the population, the giver is not entitled to any extra privileges. If an individual gives you a hug for giving a lot of stuff, then that is a voluntary act on that individual and not a transaction of a corresponding amount of social capital. I don’t see why this system would become hierarchical.

    “free market anarchism provides the best system of checks and balances”
    Supporters of land value tax make the same argument. They want to minimize the state to minimize the damage, and minimize the accumulation. In the same way (even though I too accept a society where people are free to choose between free market and no-market anarchism) you wish to minimize the damage of the market but not get rid of it completely. This is of course the same type of reasoning that turned revolutionary socialism into state elitist social-democracy. I think all three of you make the mistake of assuming that the traditionally most important aspects of the economy are going to remain so and if we only control those, it wont hurt anyone too much. For me the only logical conclusion to this is to get rid of private property altogether and have none of this damage.

    I’m not ignoring the inherent competition of existence, but as many have pointed out since Darwin, competition might just as well be all living beings versus the environment rather than John versus Jane or Jane versus Gorilla. However, I think conflict-solution and arranging the logistics of the “market” function best without prescriptions set in stone and when people have basic needs met and some way to choose a path in life they can be relaxed in their attitude towards each other, there is no threat of a baton to send anyone into a panic. It’s all psychology really. The deconstruction of property as a definable thing in nature is just to explicitly remove a formal law by pointing out its flaw, namely the acceleration of inequality; regardless, the organization of the economy/transportation of goods will always be decided on the level of the individual which is where our psychology resides.

    What do you mean by this: “a higher-order “anarchy of production” that addresses contextually sensitive needs and such.” It sounds like minarchy.

    “It is only when collective actors have the economic and political power to enforce their will on others that we encounter state-like distortions.”

    Without a state there is no political power. In any case, the first hierarchies were created in herding societies where individuals owned cattle and needed an army to supporters their invention ‘capital’, from the latin word for head (of the cattle). These hierarchies and opposing forces, even property per se, did not appear automatically, they are cultural creations and do not exist in other economies.

    Oh, and another thing. If you look at the finance market, you see the bubble, or accumulation of capital where it is at its greatest at the moment. The Robin Hood-tax is meant to curb this. However, it will simply be replaced by a new place for investments, like Bitcoin. Then it will move into Virtual Reality or Robot Servants or antique porcelain or whatever and as long as we have a flawed definition of property, i.e. a flawed view of the relationship between an individual and its Other/its environment, these bubbles and other artificial phenomena having real consequences will just reincarnate in new forms.

  2. Walters Says:

    It’s important to remember that mutualism is based on the labour theory of value alongside the cost principle, and thus that subjective evaluations of goods are meant to be suppressed by the objective evaluation of the labour-power that produced those goods. Additionally, whilst it would be true that preventing wealth accumulation would be difficult to do, Proudhon does specify that wealth produced through non-labour – that is, through different forms of credit, like financialisation, debt, and interest rates – would be condemned. As would banks, with a central ‘mutual bank’ or credit union taking-over instead. Plus, the only other specified policy advocated by Proudhon was the full equalisation of wages; so as to ensure that everyone entered the market on equal terms, at least initially.

  3. enleuk Says:

    Interesting. Objective evaluation is a contradiction in terms. I havn’t read that much about the labour theory of value, but surely it does not state that labour gives rise to universal prices. I might be wrong though. More interestingly, which methods did Proudhon think could enforce a minimum wage and prevent the accumulation of capital?

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