Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Another Exchange With Kevin Carson

An interesting discussion. The whole exchange appears over at the Foundation for Peer to Peer Alternatives.
I thank Kevin Carson for his response. His second objection, that I contend "market libertarianism is primarily a defense of actually existing capitalism using 'free market' language" is exactly right. Market discourse has as its primary life in my view the provision of rationalizations for selective deregulations, selective privatizations, selective subsidizations of military-police functions that amount to stealth centralized economic-planning in the service of corporate-militarist elite-incumbent interests. Just as academic communists properly are expected at any rate to account in some form for the tyrannies that have claimed to govern in their image, market libertarians should take seriously into account the real-world work their rhetoric serves, even if they find these applications compromised or hypocritical.

Contrary to Carson's first claim, I do not disregard the pure market theorists -- I offered criticisms of their ideal formulations in the piece to which he was responding as well as the unquestionably sweeping (and I would add, incomparably devastating) practical applications of market rhetoric over the last half century. Still, for those of us interested in speculating here about the democratizing and consensualizing possibilities opening up or newly threatened by p2p expressive, educational, agitational, organizational, critical, surveillance formations it seems to me that exposing the problems and confusions in ideal market formulations -- setting aside for the moment the wreckage from "vulgar" rhetorical appropriations -- is often the most fruitful line of inquiry.

Throughout this set of exchanges, the point that matters to me the most by far is my insistence that the legitimacy that properly attaches to governance defined by the democratic ideal of equity-in-diversity is different in kind from the efficiency/optimality mechanisms and justifications for non-governmental organizations that often provide the focus of p2p accounts and then -- disastrously in my view -- get misapplied to the normative-institutional state sphere.

Often, I believe prior commitments to anarcho-spontaneist or elite-design ideologies among techno-centric intellectual-workers trained in neoliberal university settings in the promotional-financial epoch of corporate-militarist capitalism provide the basis for this misapplication.

But all that is a discussion for another time (in my view an enormously important one for folks who would be drawn to this site), or I hope so, at least. In conclusion, let me add that I think it is important to complicate some of the interesting assumptions of your final paragraph:

first -- I am not sure that it ever makes sense to speak, as you do, of "The Market" at all -- rather than of historically and socioculturally specific market-places. This is a point Karl Polanyi, for example, already masterfully explored at the exact historical moment when Hayekian/Misean formulations of neoliberal market fundamentalist ideology arrived on the scene.

second -- I also think it is makes less sense still to speak of "natural" markets given the role of laws, norms, conventions, geographical/architectural constraints in articulating what passes for "market transactions," "innovations," "voluntary contracts," and so on from moment to moment and place to place.

Given all this I don't think -- third -- one can coherently assume the analytic vantage from which your final points are imagined to be offered, among the crucial consequences of which is that it is actually a question and not a given just what passes for "consensual, voluntary arrangements" in the first place, and that only in recognizing this do we grasp the stakes of conversations like the one we are having here.

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