Anarchist Social Democracy: Georgism, Mutualism, Libertarian Municipalism, & Social Democracy
[The flag of Anarchist Social Democracy (above) consists of the "hound of distributism," carrying the red rose of social democracy, superimposed on top of the globe (symbolizing geoism/Georgism and social ecology) in front of the anarchist flag.]
I know that I am not likely to run into too many like-minded individuals on this particular forum. However, I have a background in right-libertarianism (having studied Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard), and have a respect for that tradition in spite of the fact that I have come to decidedly left-libertarian conclusions myself. I am presenting a unique libertarian vision that I hope others within this forum might find interesting, even though they may not be inclined to agree with me.
I have transitioned from being a mutualist to being a libertarian municipalist and a Georgist; or, rather, I have revised my mutualism sufficiently to allow it to work within the framework of Georgist municipal socialism. The new synthesis that I have created is "Anarchist Social Democracy," and I may be the only person advocating for it.
WHAT IS SOCIALISM?
Socialism is the notion that each person is entitled to the entire product of their own labor and that no one is entitled to the produce of another person’s labor. Mutualism and libertarian municipalism are two different varieties of socialism, both of which fall into the category of libertarian socialism (a.k.a. anarchism).
MUTUALISM VS. LIBERTARIAN MUNICIPALISM
A mutualist is someone who believes that workers ought to be the exclusive owners of industry, so there should be private property for small crafts alongside collective-ownership in the form of workers’ co-operatives for factories, stores, utility companies, etc. The co-operatives would be directly democratic, where the workers can freely participate in the decision-making process.
Libertarian municipalism, on the other hand, is a form of municipal socialism, so it holds that industry—factories, stores, utilities, etc.—ought to be publicly-owned at the local level, by the municipality. However, the libertarian municipalist also holds that the municipal government ought to be directly democratic, and that policy-making should be done through face-to-face democracy in general assemblies, where all citizens are free to participate directly in the democratic process. Personally, I think that this direct democracy ought to be consensus-oriented rather than simply majoritarian.
Georgism is a form of socialism, although it is not usually recognized as such. Georgism holds that land ought to be communally-owned, and that the community ought to charge rent for the private use of land. If a corporation wants to monopolize an oil field or gold mine, then that corporation has to pay a high rent (or “land value tax”) to the community for the privilege of exclusive private use of those resources. Georgism bases its tax/rent exclusively on the land value, excluding buildings and improvements. Unlike existing property taxes, a Georgist land value tax would not increase every time the possessor of the land makes an improvement on their home or building. Since value added by such improvements is legitimately the product of the owner’s labor and not unearned increase, that increased value will not be taxed.
THE THEORETICAL BASIS:
Mutualism is based on the observation that landlords and capitalists expropriate most of the product of labor from the working class. The rentier class (i.e. landlords and capitalists) do not contribute anything to the production process, yet they are allowed to take the majority of the product of labor in the form of profits. Thus, 10% goes to paying the meagre wages of the workers, and 90% goes into the pockets of the rentiers. Consequently, the majority of people in our society work extremely long hours (about 10 times longer than is necessary) in order to produce enough to ensure that the rentier class can remain idle and survive solely through exploitation of the working class without actually contributing anything to society themselves. Did the landlord create the Earth that he rents out? Did the capitalist work in a factory to earn by the sweat of his brow all the income that he invests? Certainly not! Instead, they “earned” their money through monopolizing natural and social resources. Thus, the mutualists concluded that the function of the rentier is solely exploitative. The capitalists and landlords can be kicked out. We can transfer ownership of industry and productive property (e.g. land) to the workers themselves, and they can manage it on a collective basis, sharing profits equitably amongst themselves, enriching the whole body of workers instead of impoverishing the workers while enriching the exploiters.
Georgism seeks to eliminate the exploitation associated with private-ownership. Suppose that a speculative investor buys cheap land in the country. They buy the land cheap and just hold on to it for a decade. After ten years, the land has increased in value by nearly 700%. In the meantime, the speculator contributed nothing to the value of the land. In fact, he might not have ever even visited or seen the land. The value of the land increased because the surrounding area developed. Other people built houses in the area, someone else put a grocery store in, another person put in a gas station, and the municipal government put in roads, utility lines, schools, traffic lights, etc. All of the increased value of the land was the product of other people’s labor, not the product of the investor’s own labor. Thus, the profit the investor makes off of renting or selling the land is tantamount to theft. Georgism supposes that the unearned income from private-ownership of land is illegitimate. Consequently, it proposes that land should be regarded as public property, owned by the community. Under Georgism, the “private owner” can still keep ownership of his land, but true ownership will belong to the community, and the owner of the land will have to pay his fair share in taxes. Many forms of taxation constitute theft (e.g. income tax on the average worker), but the Georgist land value tax does not constitute theft because the value being taxed is not the product of the private proprietor’s own labor. What is being taxed is the unearned income that the proprietor has unjustly appropriated (stolen) from the community. This money then can be divided up and given back to the members of the community who created that increase in value in the first place.
OF LIBERTARIAN MUNICIPALISM
Libertarian municipalism recognizes that mutualism does not go far enough. Under mutualism, the co-operative becomes sort of a collective version of the private owner, almost tantamount to a corporation. The profit motive is still the driving force, and exploitation will still occur. Under mutualism, the members of the co-operative are the owners and bosses themselves, as a collective, so the co-operative does not exploit its own members. But the profit motive does tend to encourage the co-operative to exploit natural resources and the community in which it finds itself. The mutualist co-op does not seek to enrich the capitalist proprietor at the expense of the workers, but it does seek to enrich the co-op members at the expense of the members of other co-ops—it does seek to enrich this exclusive group of co-op members at the expense of the greater community.
Corporations may decide that it is in their best interest to pollute a local river with industrial waste rather than to dispose of toxins appropriately. It may be expensive to run a particular industry in an environmentally friendly and ecologically sound manner. To do so may greatly reduce the profits of the industry. A co-operative may see that the right thing to do will cut into profits and lower the incomes of all the co-op members, and it may consequently decide to continue polluting the environment instead of doing the right thing.
Furthermore, it is not inconceivable to imagine a co-operative equivalent of Walmart. Let’s call this CoopMart. CoopMart will be much better for the co-op members, eliminating a lot of exploitation that takes place under the capitalistic model of standard corporations. However, it is not obviously the case that this CoopMart would be much better for the community. Walmart has a lot of money in comparison to small local stores. So, Walmart can open up a store in a small town and undercut the competition by selling its products so cheap that it is actually losing money for the first year. Then, after putting all the small grocers, clothing, and shoe stores out of business, they can hike up their prices and enjoy a monopoly status. There is nothing that would prevent our mutualistic CoopMart from acting in the same way.
The libertarian municipalist, therefore, sees that it is desirable to make industrial and commercial enterprises subject to local control and regulation by the municipal government. At the same time, the libertarian municipalist wants the local government to be directly democratic and subject entirely to the control of the citizens of the local community. When there is literally no difference between the government and the people, then the form of government can truly be regarded as anarchic. Thus, the libertarian socialist sees direct democracy as essential to the success of anarchism in our current situation. Libertarian municipalism can be seen as somewhat parallel to Georgism. Like Georgists, libertarian municipalists believe in public-ownership of land. Yet, the libertarian municipalist also advocates municipal-ownership of industrial and commercial enterprises.
INTEGRATING GEORGISM, MUTUALISM, AND LIBERTARIAN MUNICIPALISM
I would argue that this municipal-ownership could be exercised in a manner similar to that of Georgism. Also, it could be exercised in a manner that integrates some of the mutualist/distributist co-operative aspects. The true ownership would belong to the municipality, which ownership could be exercised by taxing and redistributing a portion of the unearned profits and regulating the enterprises in order to ensure that they do not do any damage to the local community or the environment. Thus, I can remain a mutualist of sorts. I hold that a worker-owned co-operative model for enterprise is legitimate, yet that the role of the co-op should be administration. The co-op’s “ownership” should be subordinate to communal-ownership at the level of the municipality. So, the municipal democratic assemblies (of which the co-op members would be a part) would do the policy-making, setting of regulations and rules, etc. Yet the co-op would remain somewhat autonomous in an administrative sense. The co-op would carry out the administration of the enterprise in accordance with guidelines set by the local democratic assembly.
This line of thinking is different from the standard libertarian municipalist platform. Generally, libertarian municipalists advocate “full communism” (public ownership of land and enterprises within the framework of a moneyless economy). I differ from the mainstream of the movement insofar as I do not want the abolition of money. Instead, I want a Georgist land value tax, progressive taxation and redistribution of unearned incomes, and a universal basic income for every citizen, along with basic necessities like healthcare being provided for by the community for free. So, my utopia has a market economy, though it would be a well-regulated market economy with public-ownership of land and enterprises.
POST-CAPITALISM: TRANSCENDING INDIVIDUALISM
Individualist anarchism was historically somewhat understandable. Its arguments were somewhat justified. Ultimately, it developed into the philosophy of “anarcho-capitalism.” But such individualistic and capitalistic approaches are not suitable for the near future. In fact, even conventional non-“anarchist” capitalism and capitalistic post-Keynesian social democracy is becoming obsolete. As industrialism advances to its logical conclusion, wage-labor and private property as the cornerstone of the capitalist economy can only lead to the most egregious form of despotism.
The industrial society continues to progress and advance scientifically and technologically. As this progress continues, machines will take over all of the jobs that wage-workers traditionally held. Accountants will be replaced by computers, as automation eliminates unnecessary human labor. We were already aware of the automation and use of robots in factories, especially in factories that produce automobiles. Eventually, they will have robots that make robots and robots that fix broken robots, so that no human labor is needed at all. Automated kiosks are starting to replace cashiers and tellers at fast food restaurants and banks. Self-driving cars and trucks are already in production, and they will eventually become so efficient that no human component is needed at all, and they will eliminate countless jobs in the fields of trucking and transportation. Ultimately, within the next few generations, human labor will be rendered obsolete—there will be no jobs for anyone. Unemployment will be universal.
Under such conditions, it would be unconscionable to allow private-ownership in the form advocated by individualists and “anarcho-capitalists.” Land and enterprises would continue to be owned and monopolized by the few rentiers, but the dispossessed proletariat (working class) would become an unemployed, homeless, and impoverished majority. The only ethical thing to do would be to collectivize land and enterprise, confiscate a good portion of the profits, and use the profits to provide the citizens with the basic necessities of food, income, shelter, and medical care. Thus, the only ethical framework for a society of tomorrow will be far closer to social democracy than to individualist libertarianism.
CONCLUSION: ANARCHIST SOCIAL DEMOCRACY
This sort of socialistic market society with public-ownership of land and enterprises, within the framework of a directly-democratic and consensus-oriented system of governance, where everyone receives a basic income and universal healthcare, etc. is what I have been calling “Anarchist Social Democracy” or “Libertarian Social Democracy.”