Thursday, July 16, 2009

Is what millions have voluntarily created on the Net socialism?

Words have meaning. We don't get to choose their meaning. If you call something "X" people will hear the equation. They won't read the fine-print which says ("By X, I mean really not-X).

[Kevin] Kelly says:

When masses of people who own the means of production work toward a common goal and share their products in common, when they contribute labor without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge, it's not unreasonable to call that socialism.

That statement is flatly wrong. It is completely unreasonable to call that "socialism" -- at least when the behavior described is purely voluntary. It's like saying "Because Stalin set up a competition between different collective farms, it's not unreasonable to call that free market capitalism." Both statements are wrong because they point to a feature that is common, and ignore the feature that is distinctive. At the core of socialism is coercion (justified or not is a separate question). At the core of the behavior Kelly celebrates is freedom.

Kelly's argument is like so many today that has implicitly embraced the view that free market, libertarian sorts believe that the only thing in the world is competition, or people working to non-common goals. It is the idea that we are free only if we are antagonistic, and that free market theorists have been working to create a world where individuals struggle against, not with. A world that aspires to dog-eat-dog as its central value.

But that conception of capitalism/free-market/libertarianism has no basis in fact.

No, Kevin, this is not "socialism"


  1. It's like socialism, if socialism were entirely different than it actually is.

  2. SE, this piece is totally, 100% ignorant. The word "socialism" has more than one meaning and not all of them involve state-intervention in the economy. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, the "workers own the means of production" definition of socialism pre-dates the "state-socialist" definition.

  3. Dr.,

    I think Lessig just means "socialism" as commonly understood: If you call something "X" people will hear the equation. They won't read the fine-print which says ("By X, I mean really not-X).

    If libertarians can appropriate the word again to advance liberty and take it away from the statists (they stole the word "liberal" too) then I'm all for it.

    I would remind you that "capitalism" likewise has more than one meaning (if it didn't, there would not be anyone calling themselves "anarcho-capitalist").

    By the way, thanks for the add to your blogroll. I just added Privilege is Theft to our Skeptical Eye blogrolls.

  4. I beg to differ. The perception that Capitalism/Free-market/Libertarianism is competitive has every basis in fact, because, in fact, competition is the very definition of "market". Libertarianism is spawned from Jeffersonian Democracy... That government which governs best governs least. However, it still governs.
    Kelly's statement makes no mention of voluntary participation and is the essence of socialism, not to be confused with Marxism or communism.
    Absolute liberty, or anarchy, is a myth. I does not, and never has, existed in either the human condition or in nature. A leader always emerges, and with the emergence of a leader some degree of freedom is always lost.

  5. SE... got distracted before responding to your basic question about the net being socialism.
    Good question, but I would opine that the web is social, not socialism. However, it is, undeniably the most free, maybe the most freedom, mankind has ever experienced. Have you read "The World is Flat"? If not, it's a good read.

  6. SE, I didn't read the Lessig piece, so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. Also, thanks for the blogroll add!


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