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Geo-Mutualist Depictions of Occupancy-and-Use Fall Flat

Saturday, November 14, 2015 23:14
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Geo-Mutualist Depictions of Occupancy-and-Use Fall Flat
Carson Adresses Schnack’s Criticisms

Will begins by questioning the extent to which non-Proviso Lockeanism and occupancy-and-use really do occupy a single “stickiness” spectrum:

…[H]e acknowledges … that mutualism and neo-Lockeanism may exist on a spectrum in regards to conventions relating to abandonment and community reclamation. It is implied that capitalists and mutualists may simply diverge in how long one may leave one’s property unattended, with mutualists favoring continual use, with short periods of abandonment, and capitalists being more lenient in regards to disuse. While I see this as a stretch, I do have to agree that occupancy and use, as Kevin defines it, can be looked at, in a very general sense, as existing on a spectrum with neo-Lockeanism, however differing in some important and irreconcilable ways in the specifics (particularly in areas such as rental property and wage labor). In their theoretical extremes, occupancy and use represents collectively shared communal possessions, and neo-Lockeanism represents unhampered, undisputed, and perpetual property.

I don’t see the existence of wage labor as a deviation from mutualist occupancy-and-use — at least not in the sense used by Tucker, who was open to wage labor continuing under anarchy so long as the land, credit and other monopolies that privilege the employer against the worker were removed. Tucker explicitly endorsed the possibility of paid labor, in fact, in his debate with William Most. I see the wage labor relationship (the “job culture,” as Claire Wolfe calls it) as something undesirable in and of itself, insofar as it involves the unlibertarian practice of an individual living a major part of her working life in a position of subordination. But while even without the class monopolies and privileges enjoyed by employers, some individuals under anarchy might find wage labor less objectionable than the alternative, I believe that wage employment would be much smaller in quantity than it is under capitalism. And where it existed, wages would be much higher on average and the shift in bargaining power would result in workers having a much larger amount of direction over their own work and working conditions thanks to the ability to walk away. In a free economy, wage labor would be marginal rather than the mode or norm, and would more closely resemble self-management than what we today consider wage labor — in other words, it would no longer be a wage system.

But I definitely concede — something I probably should have acknowledged in my first article — that one of non-Proviso Lockeanism’s sharpest divergences from occupancy-and-use is in regard to rental property. I think even here things are more of a spectrum than Will suggests, though. As Shawn Wilbur has suggested in various places, occupancy-and-use rules worked out in local communities would probably have “Aunt Sally” provisions for small-scale arrangements like renting rooms to lodgers or renting out detached cottages on the same lot with one’s own house, etc., so long as large-scale rentals of multiple-unit complexes by absentee landlords was prevented. On the other hand, the non-Proviso Lockeans in the left-libertarian community tend to be quite sympathetic to things like squatting in empty buildings, rent strikes by tenants, and so forth.

Will argues that Proudhon’s version of possession or occupancy-and-use was a sort of “proto-Georgism” in which the individual’s possession was indemnified to the community through rental payments (a position which he backs up in an Addendum with evidence from Proudhon’s work). He puts me on the right end of the spectrum on land for favoring a version of that doctrine derived from J.K. Ingalls and Benjamin Tucker, rather than from Proudhon.

I certainly do credit Ingalls and Tucker as the main influences on my land tenure ideas, although I at least consider the Georgists allies in spirit despite not agreeing with their remedy. So while I’m not exactly crazy about being called right-wing, I would have to say Will’s substantive description of my views is more or less fair. I guess it’s also fair to say I favor the “privatization of economic rent” (i.e. the Ricardian differential rent on land from superior fertility or location), although I believe that 1) occupancy-and-use would eliminate the great majority of gross rent, and 2) eliminating subsidies to sprawl and fully internalizing positive externalities from infrastructure would get rid of a major part of differential site rent.

I do take issue with the more generalized statement that I favor the “privatization of rent,” since differential rent on location and fertility is itself only one component of gross rent, and arguably a less important one than absentee landlord rent. And considering that whatever residual location remains will accrue not to an absentee landlord, but to an occupant-user who possesses only so much land as she can directly put to use, I think it’s a stretch to accuse me of “siding with capitalism.”

The next criticism Will raises — arbitrariness of enforcement — strikes me as decidedly odd:

Communities or their agents are necessary for the protection of property. It’s important to remember that, no matter the property system set into place, this system will be maintained through judicial enforcement, springing from norms and customs of a given community, often after having practiced under the guidance of an entrepreneur or founding group. Without rough community agreement on an issue, whether innate or guided by uncommon but respected foresight, property norms are unenforceable. However, both the neo-Lockean perspective and Kevin Carson’s flavor of occupancy and use must admit some degree of arbitrariness as it relates to the line of demarcation between absentee-ownership and abandonment, leaving communities with little means of reaching an intersubjective understanding of the situation. Lacking a means of explicit agreement, communities cannot enforce dictates, and jurisprudence becomes a matter of private interpretation and tacit consent. That is, lacking agreed-upon laws — and leaving a vacuum of collective irresponsibility and lack of mutual understanding in their stead. Non-agreed upon laws will be enacted by the personally responsible until they are overturned by collective responsibility. The rich will dominate the poor, the strong the weak, until the latter unite as a class. Suggesting the arbitrariness of two positions of conflict does little to suggest a means by which the arbitrariness — the most conducive element to conflict — may itself be eliminated.

The two positions balanced in Kevin’s proposal — his flavor of occupancy and use and neo-Lockeanism — are left without a resolution. One is left with the opinion that the groups can get along, without addressing the mechanics of how. We can understand that each group has its customs that present a framework in which differences are addressed, but we are left with the question of what kind of framework would allow neo-Lockeanism and Carson’s occupancy-and-use to co-exist, particularly when it regards spaces of high value which may be under dispute. What happens when a Carsonian mutualist homesteads the absentee acreage of a neo-Lockean? Ultimately, a dispute arises, either between the two groups, when each comes to defend its members’ expressions of their customs; or between a member and their community, upon the picking of sides. Arbitrariness is conflict in the making.

Looking at the two paragraphs together, I think Will is conflating two different issues: The coexistence of non-Proviso Lockeanism and occupancy-and-use as ideologies with some degree of theoretical overlap, and their coexistence as enforceable rule-sets in real-world communities.

Will’s objections in the second paragraph strike me as odd because I believe I stated quite clearly that the differing land tenure rules would coexist only on the level of separate communities, with each community internally applying one or the other based on majority mores — I certainly did not argue for more than one set of land tenure rules coexisting within a single community.

And within a particular community, the enforcement of any set of general land-tenure rules will of course carry a certain arbitrary quality. As I said earlier in this debate, the application of any set of land rules — Lockean or mutualist or Georgist, communist, or whatever — entails secondary rules that are to a large extent matters of convention and not logically deducible from the basic principles as such.

And whatever the institutional arrangements for deciding disputes in a polycentric legal system — arbitration between protection associations, juries of the vicinage, etc. — I would expect a local body of law to develop in each community based on judicial precedents, in the specific area of land tenure disputes reflecting whatever principles had majority support.

As for the questions he raises about mutualists homesteading Lockean absentee-owned property, I’m especially at a loss because I specifically addressed such issues in my first article:

It seems likely that land property regimes will be polycentric to the extent that majority mores vary from one locality to another, because absent a single legal regime enforced by a large territorial state, property claims will depend on the willingness of local communities to enforce them. And in a polycentric legal regime in which all enforcement is financed endogenously (by the beneficiaries, as opposed to externalizing the cost on society at large through exogenous funding from general revenues), the enforceability of one’s property claims will depend on whether the potential economic value of the property is sufficient to justify enforcement costs….

So for example, a mutual defense association or an-cap private security firm in a Lockean community will probably have an exclusion clause against enforcing the collection of absentee landlord rent against an occupant in a mutualist community, or protecting landowners against collection of land rent in a Georgist community — or for that matter, restoring a dispossessed factory owner in a syndicalist or communist community. Likewise, mutual defense associations in occupancy-and-use communities will likely refuse to protect occupants of land in a Lockean community against rent collectors [emphasis added].

I don’t know how I could state it any more clearly than that.

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