Per Bylund Interviewed by Wayne Sturgeon on Market Anarchism

WAYNE JOHN STURGEON INTERVIEWS PER BYLUND ON MARKET ANARCHISM

1)Please could you introduce yourself and how you came to be involved in market anarchism and could you explain what you mean by the term etc?

Alright, I’m a native Swede in his mid-30s and originally from outside the capital Stockholm. My road to market anarchism was neither straight nor obvious. I started out as a kind of free market type longing for an argument for how anarchism could work. So I was kind of searching for an answer. I already had an idea of freedom and liberty, and I knew that government by definition is its very opposite. But I lacked the means to abolish government in my mind – I needed to “see” how it could work before I could believe it. This was in the latter half of the 1990s, and a friend of mine and I discussed for hours and hours how a free society might work in practice. We failed, of course, to realize that our attempts at “creating” a free society is nothing but despicable social engineering, and that forcing our perception of freedom on people is as oppressive as forcing any other perception on others. I finally stumbled upon David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom, which I then found mind-blowing in the simplicity of his argument. While it has some immense flaws, Friedman helped me take the final step.

            It was downhill from there. As soon as one has liberated one’s mind, there is no limit to what one can figure out. And being a true radical doesn’t seem all that frightening anymore.

 

2)I understand that you used to be more to the “right” of anarcho-capitalist thinking in the past but have tended in recent years to go more towards the “left” concerning market anarchism etc, was agorism a factor in this development?

Yes, this is true. Friedman helped me take the step toward anarcho-capitalism, but this was by no means an end to my search. It was but the beginning. I accepted the core of anarcho-capitalism, but was troubled – I guess I was at times even disgusted – by the language used by anarcho-capitalists. Some anarcho-capitalists seem to have read too much Ayn Rand, and have adopted the randroid view of corporations as oppressed entities. It didn’t seem right to me at all to kind of automatically come down on the side of corporations. After all, corporations are responsible for a lot of evil, and many of them are very supportive of the State. I’m not only talking about subsidies and tax breaks, but you have corporations developing weapons, surveillance equipment, torturing devices sold to governments. Many corporations are simply very evil. Some corporations do a lot of good, but this is no reason to defend all corporations.

            I pretty soon realized that the idea of a corporation is in itself nothing but a government-granted privilege. I mean, corporations and their owners are ultimately not responsible for their costs – they just file for bankruptcy, get restructured and continue like nothing’s happened. Their suppliers have to suck up the cost. This is not how it would work in a free market. It couldn’t, since there is no government to grant such privilege. So you would always be responsible for your actions – and their consequences. Corporations are legal entities, but are not real entities. So in a free market a corporation cannot be anything more than a nexus of contracts where all individuals acting in its name distribute responsibility for their actions on each other according to existing contracts. But ultimately, someone has to take responsibility. The difference to the modern-day, privileged corporation is huge.

            Anyway, I quickly got in touch with agorists and read some of SEK3’s texts on the state, the market, and what to do about it. And this kind of solved another problem for me. I already had an idea of how to withdraw support from government through acting primarily in a black market and thereby escape both regulations and taxation. But I still figured one had to establish a free territory, a kind of anarchic “country” if you will. Well, SEK3’s “counter-economics” shows very clearly that this is not necessary. And one does not have to free a whole country in order to be free. In fact, this is counter-productive, since most people do not believe in freedom and may not wish for your freedom. So you may not even get anywhere. But if you free yourself, as Konkin says, you provide a great example of living in freedom while being free. You become free, and may help free the world. It is a simple yet beautiful idea.

            But I also read other anarchist thinkers and was heavily influenced by Benjamin Tucker, PJ Proudhon, and others. I wholeheartedly support the agorist perspective, but I do so in an idiosyncratic or perhaps anarchist way. When people ask, I usually say I am an agorist-individualist anarchist-mutualist, and constantly move around within this triangle. I have continued to do so for the past decade.

 

3)Why do most contempory “leftist” anarchists appear to completely misunderstand both anarcho-capitalism/market anarchism or intentionally seem to misrepresent it?

Well, this is a very interesting question. I have dedicated much of my writing to it, and also my web site Anarchism.net. I think – in general – people who feel more at home on the right rely more explicitly on reason and rationality; people who say they are on the left rely more on feelings. This is a reason for all the confusion and the seeming impossibility of communicating with people on the “other” side. Leftists don’t want to hear the logical reasoning, the rational cause-and-effect kind of arguments offered by anarcho-capitalists, but react emotionally to their use of value laden terms such as “capitalism.” And rightists cannot even begin to understand the to them seemingly illogical, emotion-based rationale offered by leftists. Oftentimes, they really talk about the same things, but use different terms and have slightly different perspectives. At least, this is my conclusion.

            I think there is much to gain from joining forces, but most people seem to be more interested in maintaining purity in their ranks. I admit, I don’t always appreciate impurity of thought. But that’s because I think arguments need to be free of contradiction to be good arguments worth considering. Thinking is an art and we’re not all equipped with philosophical minds. We can probably all become philosophers, but it takes a lot of time and effort and all of us simply don’t have that kind of interest. This does not in any way mean we cannot work together. This is the beauty of the market; it shows how we don’t need to see eye to eye in every single issue – we can still exchange whatever ideas or goods we fancy. We should be able to do the same thing in the movement for peace and liberty; we all agree that we need to get rid of the State, and that we must do away with violence-based privilege. We may not agree on all the details, but let’s work them out when we get to the point where there is no government. I think it will be pretty obvious what will work and what won’t at that point. But unfortunately, a lot of us spend our time and energies fighting each other’s impurities before we do anything. Again, this is the fallacy that Konkin beautifully addresses through counter-economics. Start with yourself, then let others emulate your successes. Liberating the whole world is not a first step – it is the ultimate goal.

 

4)Is libertarianism a movement that is culturally specific to anglo saxon civilisation?

No, I don’t think so. Libertarian ideas exist in all cultures. People like freedom, but they also like security – and you usually cannot have both. So it depends on how independent you are in spirit whether you become a libertarian with great ideals of peace and liberty – or if you focus on issues that are closer to you, and simply reach out for the closest solution. It is true that libertarianism is strongest in the West, but I think this has more to do with wealth and prosperity than with a certain culture. Culture has always been liberating in some ways and restricting in others; what we do see is that culture allows for greater heterogeneity as a society grows richer. So I think the reason libertarianism is strongest in the West is simply that the West developed wealth sooner than other cultures – for whatever reasons. It may be that western culture is more individualist, but I think other cultures are moving in that direction too – and they seem to be doing this as they get richer. Strict family ties with coercive duties lose meaning when there is wealth – duty is a means to survive under extreme scarcity. When we don’t suffer such scarcity any more, and by this I mean that we don’t face starvation, then such duties are no longer as important. This is when people gain independence, develop their own thoughts, and seriously start thinking about freedom.

 

5) The Austrian school of economics introduced the concept of the subjective theory of value in opposition to the marxist labour theory of value, what do you think of the contempory mutualist Kevin Carlson who has developed a subjective theory of labour value?

I think Kevin is great, and his views are welcome if not necessary counter-arguments to established truths and ways of thinking. But I am not sure how successful he is in developing a convincing subjective theory of labor value – or how useful it is.

 

6)What do think about rent,interest/usury and land ownership?

Funny you should ask this. I consider myself a soft propertarian in the sense that I do not subscribe to the neo-Lockean theory of property. There are many fundamental problems with Locke’s theory, and the newer versions of it usually fail to address those. I cannot see how one can gain ownership of the unowned simply because owned is mixed with unowned. This doesn’t make any sense philosophically, and makes even less sense when considering practical problems in applying this theory.

            But this doesn’t mean that seeing property as limited to only direct possession is a good solution. I find both views unsatisfactory, since they attempt to solve problems but really just create new ones. For instance, Lockean ownership needs either a forceful legal framework or complete contracts not to bar humanity from property. Imagine if there is no government yet we accept the Lockean theory of property. Also imagine that a person has not written a will. So who gets his property when he dies, if he still owns it then? The answer is nobody! It is his forever, because there cannot be a legit transfer of property rights. This is only one problem, but it shows how the Lockean theory relies on a legal framework that limits the property rights or even annuls them under certain circumstances. This doesn’t make any sense, because it undermines the theory of property itself.

            And possession-based ownership has all kinds of problems, especially with longevity. Production takes time, but it doesn’t make sense to require that the individual producer is present throughout the production process in order to maintain ownership. Again, I’m simplifying a bit, but this is a big problem with this theory.

            Partly due to this, I made an attempt at developing a theory of property that doesn’t include those problems and that also maximizes social utility. I wrote it as a master thesis in political sciences, but it was recently published in the Libertarian Papers .What I do is simply develop a new kind of theory, breaking a kind of middle ground between the two, where ownership means something, supports production, yet is both fluid, limited, and predictable. And it allows for multiple simultaneous titles – but to different uses. It is but in its infancy, but I think the fundamental idea and argument are interesting and worth further thought.

 

7) Is there any place within a market anarchism for wealth redistribution and workers co operatives? Can a free market produce socialist ends?

Yes, absolutely. The market is the greatest means for redistribution of wealth that we know of; a free market is primarily to the benefit of those who are poor. The rich can only stay rich if they produce what others value and do so efficiently. So the ultimate effect of an unhampered market is enormous prosperity and only very small differences in wealth over time. But this requires anarchism, since government implies privileges and this stops both wealth creation and equalization. Government simply stops the engine, while liberty makes it go faster and faster while using less fuel. Obviously, the latter is better for everybody. And, frankly, if you can only become rich through making others better off, then we should seek to see as many rich people as possible. Of course, they won’t stay rich in a free market unless they continue to make people much better off – and are better at doing it than everybody else. This is quite unlikely. But under government rule and privileges, this is what happens: we get a caste society where some people are born rich, live rich, and die rich – and others are poor, poor, poor.

 

8) What do you think of Ron Paul in the USA? It appears that America has a strong libertarian and individualist sensibility but do you think Europe can develop something similar to this? Particularly in opposition to more conventional anti state currents more “leftist” and collectivist in orientation?

Well, Ron Paul is of course not much like other politicians. But he is still a statist, even though he is a “small-statist.” And he is running for office, playing the game of government, and all that. I think his views are refreshing, and I love the way the establishment freak about the fact that he’s got support. But I don’t support him in any way. I support some of his views, like end the wars, get rid of the government money monopoly, and all that. But the constitution… I don’t care for it much. It might have historical value, but that’s about it. In terms of the legal situation in the United States, it pretty much is history anyway.

            I think you’re right in that there is a strong undercurrent of individualism in the USA. But it is quite unguided and there is no telling what such individualists might come to embrace. I mean, the so-called Tea Party is a mix of a lot of very strange views along with some sound thoughts. But they don’t make much of a difference since the movement is not guided by principle. For instance, it seems many tea partiers supported Santorum because they were opposed to Romney. Well, Santorum should be as much scum to an individualist as Romney. Theocracy doesn’t seem to be a good way to go in order to reject the all-encompassing welfare state…

            But as for Europe, I think there may be a slowly building resistance there too. It is not as organized as in the US, but I think it will be. And it will probably grow stronger as an EU and centralization critical and decentralization movement. This is probably what Europe needs too, with all the latter day centralization of continental politics. I fear it will be a homogeneous leftist movement rather than several political forces aiming for decentralization for different reasons. The latter would be much better for all peoples in Europe, since it could re-establish the continent as a varied yet tolerant and peaceful part of the world where people solve problems in different ways. It would do everybody good if anyone could choose what society they wanted to live in and simply move there. This would be a great step forward. But it is likely that any such change would simply co-opt the centralized power structure of the European Union and use it for different aims, and probably under the pretense of equality, socialism, or something along those lines. The major problem for the socialist movement is that such big part of it embraces government as a means; they fail to realize that government is the cause of most of the problems they want to solve. Marx was wrong about the dictatorship of the proletariat; it is not a way forward to take over government and then shove a new, great ideal down people’s throats. The only way forward is to get rid of power first, and then establish whatever societies people like bottom-up.

 

9)Where historically do you think classical anarchism developed in a direction more “marxist” and “anti capitalist” than the more market affirming mutualism of Proudhon? Can we trace market anarchist/anarcho-capitalist thinking earlier than the American individualist tradition and the later Austrian economist Murray Rothbard etc?

Well, it depends on what we’re talking about. There has been individualistic anti-government and anti-coercion sentiment around for centuries if not millennia. But it has not been very economics-oriented, which is likely because economics was not a real science back then. The connection with economic reasoning and our understanding of how the market works is something new. And frankly, we didn’t understand the market very well when Marx wrote his great treatise on capital. He made some great contributions, and also made some grave errors. Proudhon actually seemed to have much greater insight of how the market works and what it means for those acting in it.

            But like I said before, it also has to do with terminology – Tucker was anti-capitalism but pro-market. To Rothbard, capitalism and market are synonymous, but to Tucker capitalism is what Rothbard would call state capitalism. So it all depends on what we mean by those terms.

            The reason, I think, for the Marxist direction of anarchism is the “socialist avalanche” during the 1800s. I mean, the communist anarchist Bakunin was a contemporary of Marx’s, and Kropotkin lived just a couple of decades thereafter. This avalanche was partly an effect of the terrible circumstances during the European Industrialization and in czarist Russia. But their critique of capitalism was only partly spot on – and partly misdirected. Yes, they identified many important problems with the capitalism of the time. The new society emerged out of feudalism and was based on the same sort of privilege rather than competition, so of course it was oppressive. And of course labor workers didn’t have all the benefits employees have today – and without market institutions such as competition and property and so on, they had no chance of getting their true market value. The mistake of these socialists, in addition to the error of believing this can be rectified using the State, was that they assumed this type of privilege-based fascism is the same as a free market. And socialists to this day make the same mistake – they say “market” when they are really talking about feudal-style privilege.

            The development in the United States was different, since they had a decentralized political system and never had an outright feudal system. So they didn’t have the oppressive baggage and no oppressive structures that could be used. I think this explains why for instance Tucker so clearly could see the difference between capitalism and market, and between socialism and anarchism. Capitalism and socialism are dependent on government rule and privilege, but perhaps with different aims; market and anarchism are really synonymous or at least interdependent concepts, since both are just descriptions of voluntary interaction of free individuals.

            Proudhon seems to be an exception, but perhaps it is just that he was exceptional. I am not familiar with the socio-political details of French society in the 1800s or what could explain what helped create his views.

 

10) What are your views concerning enviromentalism the contempory green movement and animal rights etc Wouldnt a totally free market lead to “The Tragedy of the Commons”?

The problem with this movement is the same as with most socialist movements. They feel very strongly about an issue, but completely misunderstand what is the real problem. Instead of realizing that the State is a culprit and also creates the incentive structures for others to be culprits, they see the State as some sort of solution – and the other culprits as the true bad guys. It is the same problem I talked about earlier, and it is a terrible mistake. I don’t think the environmentalist or green movements will get anywhere at all, unless we see hurting people and people’s interests as “getting somewhere,” unless they begin to think clearly about the State. And it doesn’t seem to me like they are getting anywhere near it.

            However, there are anarchist movements who are environmentalists – such as the Green Anarchy and primal movements. While they may seem a bit kooky at times, at least they do understand the real problem. Their problem is that they generally adopt a counter-productive or impossible philosophy of ownership. This is also a huge problem, but not such a complete disaster as that of the statist socialist environmentalists. It will create the problem you mention, however. Without a sound theory of ownership and a free society where there is no coercive privilege, there will always be tragedies of commons.

           

11) What do you think of the current “Occupy” and anti globalisation movements?

This is really the same thing as what you asked before. To the extent that they react to real ills – and they are – they definitely have a role. But many of them suffer from the statist mindset that makes them believe that they can somehow use or influence the State for their purposes. This is of course a terrible mistake. The real solution is to get rid of it.

 

12) What are your current projects and where can one find out more about market anarchism and left libertarianism etc?

My current projects…? The only project at the moment is working on a complete redesign of my web site, Anarchism.net. I wish to make it into a statist deprogramming center that can help people break free from the statist mindset – and help those who are already anarchists to understand each other. I’ve slowly been making some progress on this over the last two years, but haven’t had time to bring the project to fruition. Other than that, I don’t really have any projects. I write a lot and try to show people around me what is truly wrong with the world. People are generally interested in solving problems, but have been miseducated as to how to bring about the solutions.

            As for learning about market anarchism, I think the best way to quickly get an introduction is to google the term. There is of course plenty of information on Anarchism.net, Agorism.info, and the Center for a Stateless Society web sites. And there is a lot of interesting stuff available when googling Shawn Wilbur, Kevin Carson, Brad Spangler, and others.