a few remarks

TAHIR WOOD TWOOD at SPAMadfin.uwc.ac.za
Mon Sep 6 08:13:28 MDT 1999

>>> Chris Matthew Sciabarra <cms10 at is2.nyu.edu> 09/05 1:17
AM >>>

I'm afraid I've become aware of this thread rather late, and
I'm not at all knowledgeable about Rand, but the arguments
of Chris Sciabarra seem to me to be extraordinarily full of
holes. Maybe I'm just not used to the libertarian mode of
argument, but in the following from Chris there seems a
curious lack of history (see my further comments):

Chris: I think of the market as a kind of dialogue -- in
which social
knowledge emerges thru the interactions of market

Tahir: I like the metaphor, but wonder why a similar
dialogue would not be possible under socialism. If prices
are mainly about communication - the sending of signals -
then why is Chris so convinced that they are the only
possible means of communication about what people need and
want? Why not just shift the discussion to one about
communication and signals then? If its all about epistemic
matters, then why not talk about it fully in this way? It's
an interesting question, all the more so because questions
of power and influence are always pertinent to a discussion
of dialogue. Is the market a dialogue between equals? Can it

 Chris: By
contrast, Central Planning is a monologue:  it is something
dictated by a
central planning organism to the rest of the economy.
People do learn
about the whole through the price mechanism, but it is the
whole -- as it
pertains to their own context of knowledge, goals, and
experience.  I doubt
that we'll convince each other on our different visions
here, and I don't
want to bore everybody with long dissertations by a
libertarian on the
price system.  But I still believe that the burden lies on
the central
planners.  The market has surely proven its ability to
deliver the goods.

Tahir: Now this is where questions of history start to come
in. Yes the market delivers the goods. And it has several
thousand years of experience at doing just this, but see

Chris: I'd maintain, however, that the injustices and
structural inequalities that we see are not an outgrowth of
market distributions, but of state intervention on behalf of
"capitalist" interests, causing all sorts of monopolistic
rigidities and inefficiencies.

Tahir: I don't know what Chris's theory of the state is, or
Rand's for that matter, nor do I know what their theory of
the transition from feudalism to capitalism is (and no, I
don't promise to read up this in the very near future). But
is Chris denying that the use of state power was there in
support of "capitalists" (!) from the beginning? That in
fact this is what the nature of the modern nation state is
through and through? The libertarianism at stake there was
the liberty of the merchant class from the interferences of
the nobility. Freedom to exploit. That is the only type of
capitalism that we've had. Now we are asked to imagine a
capitalism without this history, a history of the slave
trade, of colonialism, piracy and genocide. This is what it
took to create a world society totally based on market
forces. What does it mean to place "capitalist" interests in
quotation marks? That the attainment of state power by the
bourgeoisie is all a historical fiction? What reason is
there to believe that a society totally based on market
forces could have existed without these "capitalist"
interests and their exercise of power? The market, by the
way, depends on something called infrastructure. This means
concerted actions by groups of people towards common ends.
Yes it involves planning! It also involves the liberty of
individuals being subordinated to the social good doesn't
it? I mean if we decide the railway line goes here, then you
can't have your cabbage patch and your shack here, can you?

What is the difference between self interest and enlightened
self interest here? Enlightened self interest, if it means
anything, would be what I described above, an alternative
means for the people to tell planners and decision makers
what they want. It would be enlightened because it would not
be the kind of individualism which loses sight of the bigger
picture, and it would be self interest because in pursuing
this dialogue people would be expressing their interests. I
think it would be socialism.

But the burden of proof that Chris would throw at the
marxists rests with him: why should we believe that this
pervasive market could have come about through any other
means than the brutal history of domination and conquest?
Why should we believe that it still can? In other words
what's the libertarian political programme? (Maybe I'll join
if I'm convinced). I suspect it's just loony ultra-right
survivalists running around with crossbows.

As far as unintended consequences are concerned, well I head
up an academic planning unit at a university and I know
about those, but they don't mean that planning is
impossible. Everything has unintended consequences, and if
Chris and co. can spell out their political programme then
we can have fun speculating what all its unintended
consequences might be.


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