Is it possible to be anti-capitalist and pro-market?

Interesting discussion I came across on the TVTropes page, Anarchy is Chaos:

I’ve never seen these antitheses stated in quite that way before. Of course it is possible to be anti-capitalist and pro-market, defining the terms as here, because apparently some people are. My question is, is it possible to be anti-capitalist and pro-market in a way that makes any sense – that is, is a non-capitalist market economy possible, practically or even logically? If so, what would it look like? Are there any historical examples postdating the Industrial Revolution?

I’m not sure why you say “of course it is possible to be anti-capitalist and pro-market, defining the terms as here”. Could you explain why you think that’s true? If no parties own the capital and the land (strawman anarchist definition of capitalism) then how could there be a free market where economic activity takes place outside the realm of the State (strawman anarchist definition of Free Market)?

For example, what’s the anti-capitalist pro-Free Market mining industry like? Self-employed miners dig up minerals and sell them to self employed refiners. But who owns the land and mineral rights and where did these self-employees get the millions of dollars worth of equipment to do the digging? They can’t own them, or they would fail to be anti-capitalist per your anarchist definition. The State can’t supply them because that would be anti-Free Market per your anarchist definition.

Maybe this is what you’re asking but I can’t get past why you say of course it’s possible. I don`t see any reason to think it’s possible, let alone practical or logical.


No-one and everyone/what rights?

From a mining-equipment factory?

Why not? As long as they own them in common, they don’t violate anti-capitalist stance. Or only control them on the principle of usufruct.

What State?

I thought I had made that clear enough: Obviously it is possible, in the sense that some people, chiefly anarchists of one school or another, are, by their own account, anti-capitalist and pro-market, defining “capitalism” as a system where capital is owned by party X, and party X pays wages to parties A, B and C to operate said capital, and a “free market” as where all economic activity must take place within the realm of consent and contract and thus outside the realm of the State. The question I am proposing for debate here is whether that sense makes any sense.

The TVTropes page linked in the OP goes on to describe various anarchist schools of thought:

Arguably, Ernest Callenbach worked an anti-capitalist pro-market argument into his novel Ecotopia, describing the Pacific Northwest states (Oregon, Washington, Northern California) twenty years after they seceded to form an essentially green regime. Corporations as we understand them don’t exist, but cooperatives in which every member is an equal partner of up to 300 or so were commonplace. Buying someone out didn’t consist of simply buying their shares, nor did new investors enter simply by purchasing shares, but by dissolving and recreating the co-op. Inheritance tax ran 100%, so forget about inheriting shares, either.

Or so I recall. It’s been about 20 years since I read it. Personally, I find it only vaguely plausible with a major cheat I noticed at the time: anyone who didn’t like post-secession life simply moved away, leaving the infrastructure intact and abandoning their immovable or less-movable property. Thus there were still plenty of buildings standing in San Francisco for people to live in (though more and more of the population was going rural) and factories presumably were still intact and usable, and heavy machinery was still available. How the Ecoptians managed to build their Eurorail-style high-speed train, I cannot recall. Also, I’m curious how they, in the novel having seceded in 1979, would have coped with the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which clobbered numerous buildings, bridges and roads in and around the Bay area. I have my serious doubts a bunch of co-ops could muster the necessary wealth and machinery to clean up, and by the time the first-person reporter shows up in 1999 (the novel’s narrator and apparently the first American journalist to enter Ecotopia since secession), much of San Francisco would still resemble a wasteland.

You’ll find something similar in Pacific Edge, by Kim Stanley Robinson, set in an America after a Green revolution (presumably a nonviolent revolution, though no details are given). Everyone is guaranteed an annual income of $10,000 and no one is allowed to have more than $100,000 – this still leaves room for ambition and innovation, as “Everybody wants to be a Hundred.” Business enterprises are allowed to be only so large that everyone in them can personally know everyone else – if it one grows beyond that point, the state intervenes and splits it into two or more. (Kind of like antitrust legislation on steroids.) Other than that, the state does not run economy and businesses are private affairs.

What is the difference between anarcho-capitalism (as defined above) and libertarianism?

Of course.

  1. There is a central bank which can offer loans to anyone, but everyone must vote as to whether or not the bank gives out a loan. Hereby, money is created.
  2. I, having taken out a loan, offer you money to do what I say, you accept that money as a free individual, entitled to choose to do whatever you want. You can work for me creating products, or go freely on your way.
  3. Having created produce, I sell that to other people who are free to buy or not buy as they prefer.
  4. Worried that people might try and take the things that I claim ownership over, I hire bodyguards to protect my riches.

If you pick random selections of people to vote on loans in section 1, rather than polling the whole community/nation, then it’s a fairly feasible system while still having no overlord groups (except temporarily). The only main difference from modern day, then, is that there would be a significant number of police/bodyguards. (Which I suspect would turn into private armies and fight a lot.)

IME, (most) Libertarians are not in any way hostile to Big Business, apart from wanting it to get along without government subsidies and sweetheart contracts.

Heck, the heroes of Atlas Shrugged were typically heads of major businesses, albeit still run as single proprietorships named for the founder or founder’s family with little or no mention of boards of directors or stockholder concerns or really much of anything that suggested the possibility of internal dissent or disagreement. Large concerns like Mulligan’s Bank, D’Anconia Copper, Rearden Steel, Wyatt Oil and so forth essentially dissolved when their individual leaders chose to end, sabotage or abandon them, suggesting that none of them had to bother telling anyone about their plans beforehand.

I don’t recall who was supposed to own the heroine’s company, the Taggart Trancontinental railroad, but Dagny Taggart’s wastrel second-hander brother Jim gets elected President without difficulty, suggesting he controls a significant (if not majority) stock position. Dagny also owns stock, but never seems to vote at stockholder meetings, instead just voicing her desperate objectivist realism at executive meetings, to be over-ruled by cowards. It’s as if Ayn Rand saw a corporation as just a Mom-and-Pop company (well, Pop - Mom would be too busy enjoying rough passionate sex and submitting to Pop’s will) with 10,000 employees who would we well-paid, representing as they do the cream of the labour market.

You cannot separate capitalism from a free market, because if markets are truly free, then people are free to build companies and invest capital to improve products and have ownership over those resources and all the rest.

But I think you’re excluding a huge middle. Capitalism as it is practiced today in America is a ‘third way’ system, in which the largest corporations are in bed with government and have laws passed to protect them. Government regulations protect industries, subsidize industries, and in general distort the marketplace in ways that favor the powerful and politically connected.

A good example of this is General Electric’s current behavior. General Electric makes trains, so it lobbies hard for new high-speed rail and train upgrades. The government pays them off by creating multi-billion dollar train projects which just happen to fit GE’s business model. GE is lobbying hard for cap and trade, because GE makes wind turbines and nuclear power plants, and because GE makes industrial equipment that factories would have to buy to upgrade their emissions.

Now, you may agree with Immelt on the need for trains and cap and trade. But the fact is, he and his corporation have clout to influence policy in ways that benefit them and hurt their competitors. British Petroleum did the same thing with regard to safety inspections of its oil rigs. Other companies lobby for things you don’t like.

This form of ‘capitalism’ is generally opposed by Libertarians. A market isn’t free when some players have better access to the referees than do others.

So right off the bat, you’ll get almost universal agreement from libertarians that this form of crony capitalism should be done away with. Unfortunately, you won’t find that agreement from the traditional left or right, because both sides seem to believe in this form of crony capitalism - so long as the deal-making being done fits within their own political beliefs. One man’s crony capitalism is another’s ‘partnership’.

But you need capitalists. You need the ability for people to pool their capital together to build factories and do research and development. To do that, you need limited-liability corporations so that responsibility can be delegated. And if you have capital investment, you need to have capital return. To keep money moving, you need to be able to issue stock. To do that, you need brokers and analysts. And so it goes. The modern capitalist economy has evolved and created the intermediaries it has for good reason. Mucking with it is like deciding to remove a species from an ecosystem because you don’t like it. Chances are, it really needed to be there, or it wouldn’t exist.

Well, consider the Spanish Revolution: The anti-capitalist, anarcho-syndicalist collectives that ran the economy in Catalonia, Aragon and Andalusia for about three years still made up a free market, in the sense that they were self-organized and were not controlled by the state or by any political party. (Ultimately all that was squashed – not by Franco, but by the increasingly Soviet-dominated Republican government. “Now we see the violence inherent in the system!”)

There’s nothing about capitalism that says you can’t have voluntary collectives. Even in the U.S. capitalist system such collectives exist (Hutterite colonies, for example). There are all sorts of organizations that are non-profit or volunteer driven.

Maybe you need to tell us your definition of ‘capitalist’, first.

For purposes of this thread, I’m using the one in the quote in the OP: “capital is owned by party X, and party X pays wages to parties A, B and C to operate said capital.” The economy of the Spanish Revolution did not (for the most part) work that way.

How does a war have an economy?

And with regards to what did or didn’t happen in Spain do you have any sources for us to examine other than a very strangely written TVTropes page?

Is it possible to be neither anti-capitalist nor pro-capitalist, neither anti-socialist nor pro-socialist? Is it possible to use the terms capitalist and socialist simply as terms broadly descriptive of certain types of economies theories, neither good nor bad in and of themselves, and not as banners in a holy war?

'Cuz I really, really get tired of the knee jerk way so many people respond to those terms.

The Spanish Revolution was not a war. It did happen during a war, the Spanish Civil War, but was a different phenomenon.

I provided a Wikipedia link in post #12. From that link:

Bolding mine.

I don’t follow the part about limited liability. My observation is that limited liability isn’t used to delegate responsibility but to avoid it. The controllers of a corporation can effectively borrow and spend in the name of the corporation without fear of any personal liability. And in large corporations where seven-and-eight figure salaries and bonuses are normal, they can set themselves up as wealthy for life in a year or three with little fear of ill-advised or downright mendacious policies bringing them down.

What exactly would be the bad consequences of eliminating or altering limited liability so that controllers of a corporation were partly or entirely liable for debts incurred by a corporation? E.g. off the top of my head, any personal fortune over $1000,000 for a board member or controlling partner could be liable against the debt of a corporation. Why would that be a bad thing?

Actually, the limited liability is for the investors, not the “controllers”. If I invest $10,000 and buy a 1% stake in a million-dollar corporation, and that corporation creates some environmental catastrophe with a liability of $5 million, the corporation’s assets might be liquidated (and the controllers, or corporate officers, possibly jailed if their negligence caused the catastrophe) but nobody’s going to come after me and demand I cough up another $40,000.

Well, for starters, let’s say company X is in trouble and they might be able to straighten things up if they bring in a new CEO. Who would take that job knowing their personal fortune was now at risk?

Not exactly; that is the point of the separation of ownership from control. The “controllers of a corporation” – i.e., its executives – are usually also stockholders, but they don’t need to be; and the majority of any big publicly-traded corporation’s stock usually will be owned by non-executives.

The point of a limited-liability corporation, on the other hand, is so that the investors (stockholders, bondholders) risk no money beyond what they have invested – i.e., if the business fails and has debts, the investors are not on the hook for those debts, nor for any torts the corporation might be sued for. (Not usually, that is. Lawyers know ways to “pierce the corporate veil,” but it’s not easy and requires showing some especially egregious conduct.)