Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Response to Joshua Sperber’s Libertarian Mythologies

By Luis R. Rivera III

Last night I came upon a recent article attacking libertarianism. I read it and took it upon myself to defend what the author was attacking: libertarianism. Libertarian Mythologies can be viewed in its entirety here:
I begin my paper by dividing up Joshua Sperber’s claims. He makes two claims one normative and one economic. Mr. Sperber’s normative claim is that physical aggression whether it’s global hegemony, imperialism, colonialism, vandalism, coercive purging or war is morally wrong. His economic claims are that capitalism or markets hurt the overall economy. I agree with his normative claim and strongly disagree with his economic view. I address Sperber’s conflation of the state and private sector individual which is the normative part of his argument. This section is followed by Sperber’s views on economics. Both of these sections are buttressed with excerpts from his paper as well as the corresponding rebuttals.

Joshua Sperber Conflating the State and the Private Individual
In no time in Sperber’s paper does he make the distinction in his empirical analysis of the state’s actions and that of the private individual. As a result Sperber attacks Belgians, descendants of Europe and “The US.” The problem of course is that it’s the state of these countries which are guilty of the physical aggression stated not the private individuals who resided within them during that time. There isn’t a sweeping problem of private sector European descendants murdering non-Europeans descendants. This is a ludicrous statement and holds absolutely no merit.

Sperber writes of the colonialism in Africa during the 1960’s “…Belgians murdered 10 million Congolese among countless other European atrocities…” However, these Europeans were being paid by the government; they were state employees. This is just another example of mass murder performed by the state. Sperber continues to criticize coercive measures this time he points to a contemporary example. Again within his own examples the guilty party is the state.
The link reads “Tanzanian government forces have begun forcibly evicting Maasai from their homes, burning houses to the ground, injuring civilians, and leaving women and children without shelter or protection.” Notice, this author writes “Tanzanian government” and not simply Tanzania. She also writes “Violence between the Tanzanian government and the Maasai people of Loliondo has continued…” a cardinal distinction that Joshua Sperber fails to make. Is this convenient for his portrayal of capitalism being an intrinsically immoral system?

The author continues his normative argument focusing on trespassing and other forms of violence that are concomitant. He writes of hegemony “…half-century of US hegemony (characterized by enormous violence…” but once again our author is speaking about physical aggression committed by the state and not the private individuals.

Despite all these examples of coercion that Mr. Sperber himself provides he cannot make the connection that it’s the state that commits the crimes of physical aggression and not the private individual.

Joshua Sperber’s Collection of Economically Illiterate Statements
Joshua begins his paper by writing: “One modest benefit of the current recession is that politicians are less likely to declare how fortunate we are to live under capitalism.” What he means by this isn’t that politicians are erroneously stating that The United States has a purely capitalistic system. This sentence implies that we aren’t fortunate that we live under capitalism; we are unfortunate according to the author. Unfortunately for Sperber the former stance would have been correct: politicians or anybody for that matter would be incorrect stating that we live under a purely capitalistic society. Mr. Sperber makes a value judgment one which I and all consumers can agree with. He considers rises in prices to be a bad (“unfortunate”) thing. However, where I disagree with him is what is making these prices rise. It’s not capitalism.

The unfortunate corollaries of capitalism according to Mr. Sperber are “…rising rents, among other ‘costs of living.’” Once again it is the state that is responsible for what Sperber is fretting about, namely the rise in prices for consumers. Competition brings prices down and wages up. This rise in prices is a consequence of state granted monopolies to central banks like the Federal Reserve. Or more specifically what these central banks do: expand the money supply.
In the past you needed fewer dollars to pay for rent and other costs of living because the dollar was stronger. The dollar was stronger because there were fewer dollars around. Since there is a lot more dollars today you need more of them to pay for rent and the other costs of living. Monopolies such as central banks couldn’t manifest in the free market, they are there simply because the state grants them the privilege of being a monopoly.

Mr. Sperber’s next claim is that people are “being overworked and underpaid” but how does he know this? First of all how can someone be overworked if they have the ability to quit whenever they’d like? If they are being “overworked” it’s because they prefer that to the alternative – in other words it’s their decision. Second of all how did Sperber come to the conclusion that these workers are “underpaid?” Workers are paid according to their market revenue productivity (MRP). If an employee has a MRP of $11 per hour his employer might pay him $10 but he won’t pay him more than $11 otherwise he will lose money. If a worker that has the same MRP ($10) is getting paid $7.25 per hour other capitalists can outbid that offer in order to reap that profit for themselves. This phenomenon raises wages or as our author refers to it wage labor. Our author then attacks libertarians for “having no such reservations” about this “overwork and underpaid” allegation he makes. This is because the libertarians he speaks of aren’t economically literate like he is. Ergo, he is oblivious to the notion of rising wages naturally free from government decrees such as the minimum wage. But Mr. Sperber isn’t done yet. He then explicitly takes a shot at bosses. He asks his readers “…who needs wages when you could get what you need without having to work at the mercy of a boss?” Sperber overlooks the risks that bosses or entrepreneurs bear, the leadership and the capital they provide. Entrepreneurs are obligated to honor their contracts with workers however the market isn’t obligated to demand the entrepreneurs’ goods. The entrepreneur must pay his workers in advance (before he has received the money from selling the products that his workers produce). This is the risk bearing part that entrepreneurs must deal with while workers don’t. Yet, there is no mention in Libertarian Mythologies that the boss or entrepreneur is “at the mercy” of consumers, how convenient.  

Luis R. Rivera III has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Loyola University, New Orleans. He can be reached at


  1. I first learned about libertarianism when I was assigned “Power and Market” by Rothbard and “Politics in Plural Societies: A Theory of Democratic Instability” by Shepsle and Rabuska in January 1973 at Michigan State.

    McGovern had just lost, Nixon had just been bombing the dykes and I was a committed leftist. I was instantly convinced by the Shepsle/Rabushka book that democratic socialism in multi-ethnic multi-religious societies led almost invariably to ethnic conflict such as that between West and East Pakistan and between Biafra and Nigeria (which were of recent vintage). [I assumed in 2003 that this would also be the result of the US invasion of multi-ethnic multi-religous Iraq]. I read about 25 pages into “Power and Market” and was not at all convinced by the case for laissez faire. However, I easily understood Rothbard’s three types of intervention and I understood that they most definitely meant violent intervention by the government. Thereafter, I could never find a single leftist who would admit or even comprehend the difference between a regime of the NAP vs. one of violent intervention. The fact that leftists were invariably and without exception complete cement-heads on the topic of what is and is not violent intervention is what convinced me to open up my mind to Rothbard.

    That is why I constantly repeat that no non-libertarian or non-Austrian understands even the basic aspects of our position. If you cannot discern the difference between the NAP and crony capitalism or the present day USA, you will not understand fiat money as an intervention, the drug war as an intervention or anything else about our analysis. The NAP is most certainly not “The Status Quo”.

    “Peddlers of the Status Quo - Libertarian Mythologies” nothing other than the same-old same-old status quo sidestep. The very fact that our opponents refuse to directly engage our analysis (and ALWAYS HAVE) proves that they already know they dare not. It’s over. We’ve won.

  2. Notwithstanding the fundamental differences that make communication between libertarians and non-libertarians difficult, I will note that this article predictably and problematically asserts that states, not private individuals, wreaked havoc during colonialism. It is my argument of course that states committed this violence in order to establish the conditions for markets so that private individuals can produce profit which states can then tax. The state, however, did not always initiate these policies and it certainly frequently employed private individuals (e.g., mercenaries. Blackwater?) to carry out its policies. The East India Company, for instance, consisted of private individuals who attempted to establish markets in India. However, the East India Company failed to adequately control (a necessity for markets) the local population and the British Government was forced to take over the colonial project after the bloody Sepoy Mutiny. States do the work of establishing and maintaining markets simply because private individuals cannot reliably coordinate such efforts.

    More importantly, however, instead of worrying about *who* was doing the killing the author should address *why* they were doing the killing. A market could not have been established without the mass killing of Congolese (near the late 1800s, not the 1960s), and the removal of the Maasai today is a precondition for market expansion in Tanzania. Disassociating the one hand from the other, while all the while benefiting from the washing, is historically dubious and intellectually dishonest.

    And, speaking of fundamentally different perspectives, while it is of course correct that entrepreneurs undergo financial risk, the entrepreneur -- to use libertarians' language -- elects to be one; he or she can always decide to become a wage laborer instead. However, because the entrepreneur is motivated by capitalist profit based on property ownership and the wage laborer is motivated by maintaining his or her existence through selling his or her time, the two occupy qualitatively different categories and should not be equated. Indeed, employers pay workers not "in advance" but after the work is completed, as this is a market standard -- with the exception of rent. Landlords in fact collect their money *in advance* of the month, indicating the fundamentally disparate economic power separating property owners from the property-less wage laborers the former profits from, an historic and defining disparity that is maintained perforce by the state and wholly eludes capitalist libertarians.

    1. Any initiation of force to create a “market” is forbidden by libertarianism. Libertarians are quite aware of the horrors visited upon the third world and native cultures by colonial states and/or private entities. I posted these pictures from the Congo on my Flickr page way back in 2010:

      The insinuation that libertarians are unaware of this process is preposterous.

      The ONLY principle of libertarianism is the non-aggression principle {NAP]. There is never an excuse to initiate force of violence. This has always been the case with libertarians and there are no exceptions allowed. "Creating a new market" does not justify violation of the NAP. Rothbard wrote long ago:

      The fact is that libertarianism is not and does not pretend to be a complete moral, or aesthetic theory; it is only a political theory, that is, the important subset. of moral theory that deals with the proper role of violence in social life. Political theory deals with what is proper or improper for government to do, and government is distinguished from every other group in society as being the institution of organized violence. Libertarianism holds that the only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal. Libertarianism, therefore, is a theory which states that everyone should be free of violent invasion, should he free to do as he sees fit except invade the person or property of another. What a person does with his or her life is vital and important, but is simply irrelevant to libertarianism.

      The problem poor people face is that they do not have the protection that the NAP provides them in terms of safety for their person, property and contracts over time. These days, this is mostly due to “progressive” and socialist legislation and government that, by definition, destroys the protection naturally provided to the powerless by private property. This destruction of the benefits of private property are all enacted to solve alleged problems that do not actually exist in an effective NAP-based free market, like monopoly, pollution, police brutality, war or colonialism.

      As we said earlier, you simply do not understand or do not wish to understand libertarianism or the NAP. Have you ever read the very libertarian and Austrian

    2. Have you ever read Will Grigg? Have you heard of Will Grigg?

    3. Arguing with a statist is a waste of time. As with every religion, they believe on faith that their version of the state is the one true religion, and all infidels, heretics and blasphemers must be rooted out and destroyed.

    4. "States do the work of establishing and maintaining markets simply because private individuals cannot reliably coordinate such efforts."

      Without "private individuals", there is no "market".

      Think about it this way, can a market exist in which the sole actors(buyers & sellers) are all government subsidized? In the general sense, no, because from whom would they confiscate money to do the buying? If they can't buy anything without other people's money, how could they have anything to sell? They can do neither.

      The "private individual" as you put it is a requirement for a market in the general sense(disregarding specific markets within said markets that might run solely by/for government agents using with wealth confiscated from the larger market they operate within).

      This notion that without a state there would be no market "reliably" is laughable, it's not even worth debating. The primacy of the "private individual" in a market is unquestionable.

      Even the google definition of "market" has nothing to do with the state; let alone any suggestion that a state is a requisite:

      "a regular gathering of people for the purchase and sale of provisions, livestock, and other commodities."

    5. I agree it a waste of time if you are trying to convert a statist to reason. However, I think it is important to debate them in order to demonstrate to fence sitting third parties that:

      a) Statist policy is based upon SWAT teams controlled by them;

      b) Statists do not and cannot grasp the truth of a) above;

      c) Statists do not and cannot grasp the concepts of the NAP or economic calculation and are hostile to those concepts and the market principally because they allow average people to live their lives without the violent intrusions of the statists; and

      d) A statist's sense of self-worth is based upon their self image of them doing good in the world. They are not about to grasp the truth that they are the cause of most of the world's problems. That is why they will not and do not understand economic calculation and mis-calculation. Mis-calculation is caused by them. Honest calculation occurs when they are powerless. They can't handle the truth.

    6. "A market could not have been established without the mass killing of Congolese (near the late 1800s, not the 1960s), and the removal of the Maasai today" Probably the dumbest defense of statism over free market capitalism I have ever heard. State violence used to create a market is exactly the kind of thing free market libertarians detest. Your proving our point, unless you have evidence that a rubber market could not have been created (now pay attention cause this is a key tenant of libertarian free market ideas) voluntarily?

  3. Regarding wage payments or rental payments, you've obviously never run a business or owned rental property. Your criticism is ridiculous and you must be assuming no ownership of property. But hey, that's what you're "perspective" is all about anyway. Tell us all where that has worked.

  4. Krugman as a right winger. Let’s just say that Mr. Sperber has an interesting take on “austerity” and “capitalism”:

    Austerity, via slashing social spending and expanding a surplus labor pool that is ever more desperate, achieves its aim via making labor cheap enough so that it can again be profitably exploited by capitalists. That is, our recession will come to an end, and the standard of living will be ever-lower, once business can again make a profit off of an ample number of workers, which of course is wage labor’s raison d’etre in capitalism in the first place. While the consequences of further impoverishing millions of people in order to more effectively profit off of them might engender political instability, this is not part of the economic equation. After all, political instability is what police states are for.

    Austerity is neither psychological nor mysterious, unless you are a liberal economist who thinks that – notwithstanding some two centuries of wage labor exploitation – capitalism could “work” for everyone. While Krugman accuses austerity’s proponents of wearing ideological blinders, it is he and other liberals who are guilty of the charge, as they fervently mystify what is, to any dispassionate observer, plain as day. How else to explain the Nobel Prize winning economist’s failure to recognize austerity as embodying that most basic capitalist concept: an investment.

  5. It’s good to know that our tax dollars are busying at work providing PhDs to commies.

    Joshua Sperber - - Doctoral student in the political science department at the CUNY Graduate Center. He has worked as an adjunct lecturer at City College, Marymount Manhattan College, Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, and Queens College, and has written for numerous publications including Counterpunch, Z Magazine, Tikkun, and Fifth Estate.

    See more at:

  6. You could have just started with your ad hominem, Bob, and saved us so much time!

    Libertarianism believes in the non-aggression principle and simultaneously supports private property. But when has property been established outside of violence? The word private, after all, derives from "to deprive," and property is a *social relationship* in which possession is predicated on the exclusion of others (who in turn sell their time to owners in order to survive). Libertarianism excises the establishment of property from history, which allows it to ignore the ongoing violence required to maintain property. Simultaneously, libertarians bitterly denounce the state that they are unwittingly dependent on, which is one reason why nobody takes capitalist (there are other kinds, alas) libertarians seriously. To quote an astute commentator, two men on an island constitute a homoerotic love story, not an economic theory.

    1. "But when has property been established outside of violence?"

      Where do you come up with this notion? Almost every major philosopher coming up with varying definitions of property acknowledge what would be the self evident nature of Lockean labor theory and most incorporate it into their framework. (and many some element of homesteading)

      Even Marx and Proudhon!

      Whose definition of "property" are you using?!?!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Right from the start, we have Mr. Speber's intentional failure to differentiate between defensive and offensive violence. I would bet that Mr. Sperber has a home or apartment. I would bet that he locks the doors and would look with disfavor upon 20 strangers who burst into his home who announced they were evicting him and they were moving in. Perhaps he has a pet which they kill. Perhaps he has a music collection which they destroy. Since his property is based upon "violence", who is he to object to being thrown into the street and his property destroyed? By obfuscating the simple concepts of defensive and offensive violence he demonstrates his inability to find fault with the real world NAP which all civilized people enjoy and apply.

      Regarding the "enclosure movement", Tom Woods and Walter Block say it ain't so.

      Regardless, if the subject property was indeed properly owned in common by a specific group of people and was wrongfully taken away, that is called theft. Libertarians are against theft. Mr. Sperber makes no points at all except for a pathetic attempt to convince us that there is something very wrong with our clear understanding of our notions of private property which, we can be certain, Mr. Sperber himself lives by in his own life.

    4. Libertarians are "against theft" and oppose the "offensive violence" that were simultaneously the sine qua non of the system that they defend. Coherent worldview you got there.

      Concerning my own locked doors, and the conflation of personal property (that I in fact rent) with private property, I'm pleased that you've moved on from ad hominems to tu quoques. Alas, you are still dealing in fallacies.

    5. "Libertarians are "against theft" and oppose the "offensive violence" that were simultaneously the sine qua non of the system that they defend. Coherent worldview you got there."

      Joshua- I do not believe you've successfully established that violence is a necessary component of establishing property rights.

      I noticed you differentiate between personal property & private property- could you explain that as well?

    6. Apparently Mr. Sperber doesn't understand the difference between violence and aggression. If a situation forces one to resort to violence in defense of her rights in body or property, no one can rightly call the defensive actions 'aggression' unless they seek to redefine the term.

      Furthermore, it is not state-imposed violence that secures property rights but rather the general consensus that these rights are indeed self-evident and must be respected if peaceful society is to continue.

      When that consensus breaks down, no amount of state-imposed violence is sufficient to realize these rights. The recent urban riots are a powerful and tragic example of that fact.

    7. I think we're done here. As I learned soon enough in 1973, leftists simply will not engage in a meaningful discussion of the differences between defensive and offensive violence or crony capitalism vs. laissez faire. Mr. Sperber continues their proud tradition. This is also the same type of nonsense one invariably receives from the MMTers. They know they dare not concede even simple well-known well-understood basic definitions or else their “position”, such as it is, will evaporate. We should be able to use this against them when presenting our position to average people.

      Note also how both the NYT and Kathy Shaidle refused to seriously engage Walter Block on the NAP. Our opponents have nothing and they know it.

  7. Marx didn't describe the Enclosure Acts and other forms of primitive accumulation?

    1. So you ascribe to Marx's definition of property? Is that why you differentiate between personal and private property?

      Are you a Marxist?

  8. I disagree with your economic rebuttle strictly due to your comparison of an old-school feudal money system to an advanced and highly sensitive fiat currency system that is shared and operated by an entire world, not just one country. Your argument lacks knowledge about how modern economics works. For example, the Basel 3 Accords currently being implemented to the world's Global Systemically Important Banks (G-SIB's) uses the leverage of collective exertion by multiple governments to stabilize and centralize the risk involved in lending debts driven currency. Capital requirements and liquidity regulation saves the world from economic destruction, and yet you claim that a "capitalistic" market would have the capacity and the synergy to maintain such a fragile currency system?