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Kevin Amos Carson is an American political theorist, mutualist author and individualist anarchist. His written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand.[1] Carson has also written prolifically for a variety of internet-based journals and blogs, including Just Things, The Art of the Possible, the P2P Foundation and his own Mutualist Blog. Several of his articles appear in the print journal The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty. His writing on the subject of political economy is cited by the widely read Anarchist FAQ,[2] and was the subject of a devoted issue of the Journal of Libertarian Studies (vol. 20 no. 1, Winter 2006). Carson is also holds the position of Research Associate at the Center for a Stateless Society.

Carson describes his politics as existing on "the outer fringes of both free market libertarianism and socialism." He has identified the work of Benjamin Tucker, Ralph Borsodi, Lewis Mumford and Ivan Illich as sources of inspiration in this philosophy.[3]



In addition to individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker's "big four" monopolies (land, money, tariffs, and patents), Carson argues that the state has also transferred wealth to the wealthy by subsidizing organizational centralization, in the form of transportation and communication subsidies. He believes that Tucker overlooked this issue due to Tucker's focus on individual market transactions, whereas Carson also focuses on organizational issues.

The theoretical sections in Studies in Mutualist Political Economy are presented as an attempt to integrate marginalist critiques into the labor theory of value.[4] Carson has also been highly critical of intellectual property.[5] The primary focus of his most recent work has been decentralized manufacturing and the informal and household economies.[6]


Free markets vs. capitalism

Unlike some other market anarchists, Carson defines capitalism in historical terms, emphasizing the history of state intervention in market economies. He says "[i]t is state intervention that distinguishes capitalism from the free market."[7] He does not define capitalism in the idealized sense, but says that when he talks about "capitalism" he is referring to what he calls "actually existing capitalism." He believes that "laissez-faire capitalism, historically speaking, is an oxymoron" but has no quarrel with anarcho-capitalists who use the term and distinguish it from "actually existing capitalism." In response to claims that he uses the term "capitalism" incorrectly, Carson says he is deliberately choosing to resurrect what he claims to be an old definition of the term in order to "make a point." He claims that "the term “capitalism,” as it was originally used, did not refer to a free market, but to a type of statist class system in which capitalists controlled the state and the state intervened in the market on their behalf."[8] Carson holds that "actually existing capitalism" is founded on "an act of robbery as massive as feudalism." Carson argues that in a truly laissez-faire system, the ability to extract a profit from labor and capital would be negligible.[9] Carson argues the centralization of wealth into a class hierarchy is due to state intervention to protect the ruling class, by using a money monopoly, granting patents and subsidies to corporations, imposing discriminatory taxation, and intervening militarily to gain access to international markets. Carson’s thesis is that under an authentic free market economy, the separation of labour from ownership and the subordination of labor to capital would be impossible, bringing a class-less society where people could easily choose between working as a freelancer, working for a fair wage, taking part of a cooperative, or being an entrepreneur (see The Iron Fist Behind The Invisible Hand).

Carson has written sympathetically about several anarcho-capitalists, arguing that they use the word "capitalism" in a different sense than he does and that they represent a legitimate strain of anarchism. He says "most people who call themselves individualist anarchists today are followers of Murray Rothbard's Austrian economics, and have abandoned the labor theory of value." However, with the release of his book, Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, he hopes to revive "mutualism." In his book he attempts to synthesize Austrian economics with the labor theory of value, or "Austrianize" it, by incorporating both subjectivism and time preference.[10]

Vulgar Libertarianism

Carson credits himself with coining the pejorative term "vulgar libertarianism," a phrase that describes the use of a free market ideology in defense of corporate capitalism and economic inequality. According to Carson, the term is derived from the phrase "vulgar political economy," which Karl Marx described as an economic order that "deliberately becomes increasingly apologetic and makes strenuous attempts to talk out of existence the ideas which contain the contradictions [existing in economic life]."[11]

In Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Carson writes that

The ideal 'free market' society of [vulgar libertarians], it seems, is simply actually existing capitalism, minus the regulatory and welfare state: a hyper-thyroidal version of nineteenth century robber baron capitalism, perhaps; or better yet, a society 'reformed' by the likes of Pinochet, the Dionysius to whom Milton Friedman and the Chicago Boys played Plato.

Much of Carson's writing is dedicated to critiquing other writers who he perceives as being vulgar libertarians. A sporadically recurring feature on his blog is called "Vulgar Libertarian Watch." Economists and organizations that he has accused of vulgar libertarianism include Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, Madsen Pirie, Radley Balko and the Adam Smith Institute.

The term is now frequently employed by libertarians and anarchists who favor a free market focus on popular equality, but reject corporate capitalism.

Center For A Stateless Society

In November 2008, the Center For a Stateless Society announced that it would be hiring Carson as its Research Associate and first paid staff member.[12] Since January 2009, Carson has produced several studies for the Center as well as numerous articles of political commentary on topics such as privatization, the Obama administration's Justice Department, and the War on Drugs.


Economist and anarcho-capitalist Walter Block characterizes Carson as a Marxist, for his embrace of labor value exploitation theory, and argues that Carson's philosophy is full of errors, mostly due to his acceptance of the labor theory of value. "For someone in this day and age to even take this doctrine seriously, let alone actually try to defend it, is equivalent to making a similarly widely and properly rejected position vis à vis the flat earth, or the phlogiston theory. It is, in a word, medieval."[13] Carson replied that Block misrepresents many of his views and probably did not actually read his book.

Roderick T. Long criticizes Carson's claim that full private property rights to do not stem from the concept of self-ownership, and presents an argument that if one accepts self-ownership, as Carson does, then non-Proviso Lockean homesteading rights must be accepted. However, Long accepts the concept of public property as valid and writes that communities may acquire land "by collectively homesteading," which could "[provide] a basis for No-Proviso Lockeans to recognize as legitimate the property arrangements of Mutualist, Georgist, and Proviso-Lockean communities."[14]

Selected publications

See also


  1. ^ Preston, Keith. "Free Enterprise: The Antidote to Corporate Plutocracy". Economic Notes (Libertarian Alliance) (112). ISSN 0267-7164. Retrieved May 23, 2009.  
  2. ^ "Bibliography for FAQ". An Anarchist FAQ. Retrieved May 23, 2009.  
  3. ^ Carson, Kevin. Introduction. The Art of the Possible (March 6, 2008)
  4. ^ Carson, Kevin. Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Chapters 1-3
  5. ^ Carson, Kevin. "Intellectual Property — A Libertarian Critique". Retrieved May 23, 2009.  
  6. ^ Carson, Kevin. "Industrial Policy: New Wine in Old Bottles". Retrieved May 26, 2009.  
  7. ^ Carson, Kevin. Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Preface
  8. ^ Carson, Kevin A. Carson's Rejoinders. Journal of Libertarian Studies, Volume 20, No. 1 (Winter 2006): 97-136, p. 116, 117
  9. ^ Dean, Brian (Winter 2002). "Bluffer's Guide to Revolutionary Economics". The Idler. Retrieved May 24, 2009.  
  10. ^ Long, Roderick. "Editorial to Symposium Issue on Studies in Mutualist Political Economy". 'Journal of Libertarian Studies, Volume 20, No. 1 (Winter 2006): 3–4
  11. ^ HES: DISC - Marx and origin of "classical"
  12. ^ "Kevin Carson named Research Associate at C4SS" (news release) Center for a Stateless Society (Nov 15, 2008)
  13. ^ Block, Walter. Kevin Carson as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Journal of Libertarian Studies, Volume 20, No. 1 (Winter 2006), pp. 35-36
  14. ^ Long, Roderick. "Land-locked: A Critique of Carson on Property Rights". Journal of Libertarian Studies, Volume 20, No. 1 (Winter 2006): 87–95

External links


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