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Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Network Economy as New Mutualism

What kinds of economic arrangements does anarchism, as such, want? An old question given new vitality in an age in which networks of autonomous individuals and groups have become more and more relevant and difficult for overlords in capital and in the state to control. In many ways, the new economy of networks, horizontal and decentralized, is the quintessence of the ideas of anarchists such as Benjamin Tucker, who thought that free competition would be “perfect” enough to wipe out profit in exchange, rent on land, and interest on lent credit. That is because monopolization, the source of these kinds of exploitative income, is rendered impossible (or nearly so) by an economy in which a PC and relatively little capital can make each individual her own capitalist business (See Kevin Carson‘s The Homebrew Industrial Revolution and The Desktop Regulatory State). We simply no longer need our overseers. We can employ Josiah Warren’s Cost Principle as a tool for analyzing the network economy and the kinds of hopes we may have for it as libertarians.

Tucker in particular constantly reiterated his position that if the Cost Principle (which he regarded as the definitive principle of socialism and which would necessarily mean the absence of usury) could not be realized by libertarian means, by free competition and the demise of privilege, that it was not to be realized at all. In the individualist anarchist free market, people, credit and resources would move so freely and fluidly, price signals would become so timely and clear, that before long selling goods or services significantly above cost would be rendered impossible. (Few free market libertarians of today share Tucker’s antipathy to “usury,” as such, but many now share his view of capitalism, placing it in opposition to free markets and competition.) It was thus privilege, restrictions on competition of all kinds, that allowed a capitalist/monopolist class to underpay labor and to overcharge for their products. But new technologies and the networked economy they yield are making the monopolies of old impossible by leaving regulatory and legislative attempts to limit competition powerless.

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