Thursday, 15 November 2007

The National Mill Owner

An interesting exchange occurred over at Liberal Conspiracy under the topic "How Yellow Everything Looks", which was a presumptive piece written by Unity incorrectly pigeonholing me as being an irrational fantasist dreaming of a "golden age" before the Welfare State and of being totally ignorant about the origins thereof. Nice - label the enemy both mad and ignorant, all the easier to remain in denial and cosy. I am surprised Unity did that. Maybe a temporary aberration.

Kevin Carson replied with this interesting comment:

Re the mutuals of the nineteenth century, it might be more accurate to say workers were generous *within their means*.

Under a genuine (i.e. non-capitalist) free market, in which the state did not intervene on behalf of capitalists and landlords to enforce artificial scarcity of land, and consequently labor received its full product as a wage, polarities of wealth would likely be far less. In such an environment, the working class would have the resources to fully fund mutual aid arrangements, cooperative insurance, and the like.

To paraphrase some Georgist-leaning libertarian on this side of the pond, the policy should not be welfare or charity, but justice. When workers receive their full product as a wage, they won’t need charity. And you won’t see society pages clogged with Rotary club yahoos wearing color-coded ribbons, breaking ground, handing over giant checks, kissing pigs for diabetes, etc., who in any just world would have their heads in a guillotine.

My attitude toward upper class philanthropy was expressed by a 19th century mill-worker, quoted by E.P. Thompson, whose attention was drawn to a chapel built by the “generous” mill-owner for his workers. The worker pointed out that the chapel was paid for by his own sweat, and added “I wish it might drop into Hell, and Mr ____ with it."

My reply was as follows:


Well put, but maybe not the way you might think.

What many do not realise is that, through the agent of Welfarism, the State has become one giant “mill owner” who denies the worker the fruits of their labour via heavy taxation to fund its “charity”. Worse, there is no way out - you cannot escape the mill town now. You cannot flee the State unless you emigrate. Never before has a Mill Owner been so soundly backed by law, or had the power to control the law as we have now. Never has the arm of the Mill Owner been so long or their grip so tight and all-encompassing. And now our screens and newspapers are indeed full of smug parasites handing over cheques paid for by the sweat of others…this time it is Statist politicians. This time it is all of us, not just the benighted workers trapped in some satanic fiefdom paid in tokens for use at the company shop.

Yes, let us have Justice in the form of the worker keeping the fruits of their labour. This does not prevent charity, indeed I say it can encourage it, and said it earlier, triggering a framing exercise that is the OP (which I will attend to later).

With Welfarism you have precious little Justice and precious little Charity. To the guillotine with it!

Though I saw some dancing around the edge after that, no replies have yet been able to challenge the above. Stunned into silence or singing "lalala" with their fingers in their ears? I have no idea, but I do think those at LC should really look at this, their attitudes to the past and then look at the State. Really look hard, I mean.


Saltburn subversives said...

Well done Rog.
We are not worthy.

Mark Wadsworth said...

To be fair, Kevin pilloried the "artificial scarcity of land" which is a Georgist way of introducing the topic of why Land Value Tax is the least-worst tax.

As a rabid libertarian/Georgist, all I can say is, well, whatever Kevin said.

Roger Thornhill said...


If you notice, I was not against what Kevin said, but used the framework presented to go the next step. He touched on a major injustice - the tyranical mill owner, yet in that, the model for our present day Statism is there.

LVT is like CBI - good idea that needs the detail and consequences in a wider system to be thrashed out.

CBI falls for me because of the need for robust ID and the issues of housing benefits that pull us into all manner of costs. At some stage I want to discuss LVT - maybe we need to, Mark...over a beer if possible!

Kevin Carson said...

Thanks for the link, Roger. IMO the exploitation carried out by the mill owners and that by the state are complementary. Sometimes the state is "executive committee of the mill owners," sometimes it is an executive committee with the status of junior partners, and sometimes the balance of power shifts relative to the nominally "private" mill-owners that it becomes the state becomes the dominant partner or even supplants them.

In a sense, I regard the distinction as meaningless because it's the same ruling class in practical terms. When state agencies and senior corporate management together constitute what amounts to an interlocking directorate, with the same personnel shuffling back and forth between nominally "public" and "private" employment, and when the substance of legislation serves primarily to subsidize corporate operating costs or to restrain competition through regulatory cartels, it's more accurate to say that the state and corporate apparatuses together constitute a single ruling class. To refer to the commanding heights of the corporate economy--the several hundred largest oligopoly corporations--as "private" is as meaningless as distinguishing the "private" landords from the state under feudalism.

What both state and nominally "private" plutocratic charity both do is donate just enough to blunt the danger of radicalism from the underclass--which amounts to a fraction of what they've plundered (in the form of both "state" taxation and "private" unequal exchange) from the broader productive classes.

I doubt if even the underclass comes out ahead on the deal, considering how much lower the threshold of effort for comfortable subsistence would be under a true free market--what with the availability of vacant land for squatting, as well as an end to legal monopolies (e.g. anti-jitney laws, professional licensing, regulations against self-built housing, etc.) that set up barriers to easily transforming one's personal skills to income.


I'm not a Georgist (or to the extent that Georgism is a useful transitional regime to land ownership based on occupancy and use, I guess you could say I'm a Georgist tomorrow and a Tuckerite the day after tomorrow). But as far as I can tell, all the principled theories of land ownership, including even the Lockeans at the conservative end of the spectrum, recognize a large element of artificial scarcity in the present regime. Even the Lockeans (especially radical ones like Rothbard) probably consider the majority of titles to vacant land to be illegitimate. Throw in Rothbard's principles of the "relevant technological unit" and a liberal provision for adverse possession and constructive abandonment, and there's a huge overlap between Lockeanism and the usufructory theories.

Sorry for the long rant, and thanks again for the link.

Roger Thornhill said...


Thanks for taking the time to respond.

FYI I used, as part of my paper for the Chris Tame Memorial prize, the issue of modern day "Enclosures" - both in terms of our private lives via the law and of our economic lives via the Corporatism, PFIs and creeping Statism.

Mark Wadsworth said...

CBI - the ID thing is easily fixed. There's electoral roll, passports, the CBI will only be paid into named UK bank accounts etc. How do you think Child Benefit works? Fraud, error and underpayments in Child Benefit are minimal.

Housing benefit is a completely different topic, easily fixed, I have plenty of ideas up my sleeve. In any event, with LVT housing will be cheaper.

LVT, there are a several different ways of introducing this. I can run them past you over several beers!

Roger Thornhill said...


I will let you know what is needed to get child benefit shortly!

Mark Wadsworth said...

RT, that was a rhetorical question!

When you have a baby, the hsopital gives you one form to register the birth and another to apply for Child Benefit. Job done.

Crushed by Ingsoc said...

Well yes, this goes back to the 'book within a book', Goldstein's 'theory and practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. It's worth reading closely, because it exactly describes, both the State Capitalism masquerading as Socialism, as well as the Multinational oligopolies we pretend are a free market.

Both are the same thing, because both are the end result of Capitalism- the concentration of control over resources in the hands of a self-appointing elite.