June 8, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (VI): The Kevin Carson (Side-)Show (2)

Drowned out by the sound-effects that enliven (in a “yellow journalism” sort of way) TCATL’s second chapter is the rather prosaic, boring fact that Austro-libertarians grant virtually all of Mr. Ferrara’s complaints against “crony capitalism” (or political capitalism; or historical capitalism; or empirical capitalism). That is, Mr. Ferrara beats a dead horse. He says Austro-libertarians “admit” this (as though against interest), but only by means of a “convenient inconsistency” or “tap dance.” (See previous post.)
We remind the reader that this blog is about TCATL and about the thought of others only to the degree that it bears on our task. It is therefore not about Kevin Carson’s distinctive economic, political, and organizational doctrines, which he has expounded in many publications, each of them resting on a large body of literature. Since Mr. Ferrara weighs in on exchanges between Mr. Carson and Austrian economists in the pages of the Journal of Libertarian Studies, we will not be able to avoid saying something about that as well. Mr. Ferrara’s exploitation of Mr. Carson’s anarchist thought to further Distributist propaganda is a side-show, however, and we intend to keep our time there to a minimum.
And now for that single paragraph of Kevin Carson’s that Mr. Ferrara’s finds “scathing” which, because Mr. Ferrara assigns such weight to it, is worth quoting in full:
Vulgar libertarian apologists for capitalism use the term “free market?” in an equivocal sense: they seem to have trouble remembering, from one moment to the next, whether they’re defending actually existing capitalism or free market principles. So we get the standard boilerplate article arguing that the rich can’t get rich at the expense of the poor, because “that’s not how the free market works”—implicitly assuming that this is a free market. When prodded, they’ll grudgingly admit that the present system is not a free market, and that it includes a lot of state intervention on behalf of the rich. But as soon as they think they can get away with it, they go right back to defending the wealth of existing corporations on the basis of "free market principles.”
(Carson, Studies in Mutualist Political Economy [2007], 115-116. The 2004 edition is available for free download here, where the words “the standard boilerplate article” are followed by “in The Freeman.” He deleted that phrase for the revised edition, published the year The Freeman began to publish his presumably non-boilerplate articles.)
Mr. Ferrara thought this paragraph “scathing.” Perhaps it is—to Mr. Carson’s reputation as a writer. I do not wish to prejudice my readers against his scholarly efforts, but I wouldn’t blame them if this first impression, courtesy of Mr. Ferrara, left a bad taste in their mouth. He seems to be a graduate of the literary finishing school Mr. Ferrara attended.
Mr. Ferrara apparently approves of Mr. Carson’s diagnosis of impaired memory (“they seem to have trouble remembering, from one moment to the next . . . .). It is not long before that is replaced by a suggestion of intellectual shadiness (“they’ll grudgingly admit . . . [b]ut as soon as they think they can get away with it . . . .”). So which is it? Are “vulgar libertarians” doddering fools? Or sneaky-petes? And is this merely a postulated definition of "vulgar libertarian apologists for capitalism" that no one writer fully instantiates? Or is this a blanket smear against a whole class of writers, i.e., Austro-libertarians, as Mr. Ferrara’s use of Mr. Carson’s epithet seems to suggest?
What are we to think about an ostensibly serious writer who belittles his equally serious adversaries that way? And what are we to think of a Catholic writer who overlooks that want of charity in another in order to "admir[e] his intellectual honesty"? (14)
To Be Continued