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Carson describes his politics as on "the outer fringes of both free market libertarianism and socialism." He has identified the work of Benjamin Tucker, Thomas Hodgskin, Ralph Borsodi, Lewis Mumford, and Ivan Illich as sources of inspiration for his approach to politics and economics.
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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 of Studies in Mutualist Political Economy are presented as an attempt to integrate marginalist critiques into the labor theory of value. Carson has also been highly critical of intellectual property. The primary focus of his most recent work has been decentralized manufacturing and the informal and household economies.
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." 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." Carson holds that “Capitalism, arising as a new class society directly from the old class society of the Middle Ages, was founded on an act of robbery as massive as the earlier feudal conquest of the land. It has been sustained to the present by continual state intervention to protect its system of privilege without which its survival is unimaginable.” Carson argues that in a truly laissez-faire system, the ability to extract a profit from labor and capital would be negligible.
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 more egalitarian society in which most people could easily choose self-employment over wage labor (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.
Carson coined the pejorative term "vulgar libertarianism," a phrase that describes the use of a free market rhetoric 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]."
Carson writes that
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 in The Freeman 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."
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."
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. Since January 2009, Carson has produced several studies for the Center as well as numerous articles of political commentary on a variety of topics. Several of Carson's C4SS studies were re-worked into his third book, The Homebrew Industrial Revolution.
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." Carson alleges 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 do not stem from the concept of self-ownership, and presents an argument that if one accepts self-ownership, as Carson does, then non-Lockean proviso 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."
Currently Research Associate at the Center for a Stateless Society, he is the author of three books: The Homebrew Industrial Revolution, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and Studies in Mutualist Political Economy—the last the subject of a symposium in the Journal of Libertarian Studies. He has also authored Austrian and Marxist Theories of Monopoly-Capital, Contract Feudalism, The Ethics of Labor Struggle, and The Iron Fist behind the Invisible Hand.
His articles have appeared in The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty, Land&Liberty, and Just Things, and have been featured at The Art of the Possible and on the P2P Foundation blog as well as on the popular foreign policy website AntiWar.Com. His writing on the subject of political economy is cited by the widely read Anarchist FAQ.
- Studies in Mutualist Political Economy
- Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective
- The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low Overhead Manifesto
- The Great Domain of Cost-Plus: The Waste Production Economy
- “Austrian and Marxist Theories of Monopoly Capital: A Mutualist Synthesis”
- "The Iron Fist Behind the Invisible Hand: Corporate Capitalism as a State-Guaranteed System of Privilege"
- "The Desktop Regulatory State: The Countervailing Power of Super-Empowered Individuals"
- Kevin A. Carson, Introduction, The Art of the Possible.
- Kevin A. Carson, Studies in Mutualist Political Economy chs. 1-3
- Carson, Kevin. "Intellectual Property — A Libertarian Critique". c4ss.org. Retrieved May 23, 2009.
- Carson, Kevin. "Industrial Policy: New Wine in Old Bottles". c4ss.org. Retrieved May 26, 2009.
- Carson, Kevin. Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Preface
- Carson, Kevin A. Carson's Rejoinders. Journal of Libertarian Studies, Volume 20, No. 1 (Winter 2006): 97-136, p. 116, 117
- Richman, Sheldon, Libertarian Left, The American Conservative (March 2011)
- Dean, Brian (Winter 2002). "Bluffer's Guide to Revolutionary Economics". The Idler. Retrieved May 24, 2009.
- Long, Roderick. "Editorial to Symposium Issue on Studies in Mutualist Political Economy". 'Journal of Libertarian Studies, Volume 20, No. 1 (Winter 2006): 3–4
- Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, III, p. 501.
- Carson, Kevin. Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, p. 142
- "Kevin Carson named Research Associate at C4SS" (news release) Center for a Stateless Society (Nov 15, 2008)
- Carson, Kevin. "The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low Overhead Manifesto". Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism (January 11, 2010)
- Block, Walter. Kevin Carson as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Journal of Libertarian Studies, Volume 20, No. 1 (Winter 2006), pp. 35-36
- Long, Roderick. "Land-locked: A Critique of Carson on Property Rights". Journal of Libertarian Studies, Volume 20, No. 1 (Winter 2006): 87–95
- Kevin A. Carson, The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto (Charleston, SC: BookSurge 2010).
- Kevin A. Carson, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective (Charleston, SC: BookSurge 2008).
- Kevin A. Carson, Studies in Mutualist Political Economy (Charleston, SC: BookSurge 2007).
- Kevin A. Carson, Austrian and Marxist Theories of Monopoly-Capital (London: Libertarian Alliance 2004).
- Kevin A. Carson, Contract Feudalism: A Critique of Employer Power Over Employees (London: Libertarian Alliance 2006).
- Kevin A. Carson, The Ethics of Labor Struggle: A Free Market Perspective (n.p.: Alliance of the Libertarian Left 2008).
- Kevin A. Carson, The Iron Fist behind the Invisible Hand: Corporate Capitalism As a State-Guaranteed System of Privilege (Nanaimo, BC: Red Lion 2001).
- See, e.g., Kevin A. Carson, “The Subsidy of History,” The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty 58.5 (June 2008): 33-8.
- "Bibliography for FAQ". An Anarchist FAQ. Infoshop.org. Retrieved May 23, 2009.
- Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism by Kevin Carson
- Move over Karl, Anarchism Is Back! (Review of Studies in Mutualist Political Economy) by Larry Gambone
- Journal of Libertarian Studies Vol. 20 Num. 1. This issue is devoted to Mutualist political economy. It includes critiques and Carson's rejoinders.
- Center for a Stateless Society
- Kevin Carson Interview