RE: `capitalist' character values

From: Russell Blackford (
Date: Sun Jul 22 2001 - 20:57:59 MDT

Jerry said

If I
>want my company to go from my sole ownership to some multiple ownership
>situation, sure I could just get all parties involved to sign a contract.
>But who then is responsible if the company hurts someone? All the owners I
>would assume at that point. Corporations seem to be sheltered from
>responsibility a great deal (which I assume is the point of making one). Is
>there an alternative to this that doesn't involve the initiation of force

I'm not sure I understand your question.

(1) If you mean "Is there an alternative to limited liability without
imposing force?", why yes. You just do away with laws allowing for
incorporation, limited liability etc. You need positive state action to
produce these things. Unless everyone unanimously approves of such state
action, it seems that a consistent "no-coercion" libertarian should say that
it should never have happened and there should be no corporations. This, of
course, would be a very different world, but so be it, if you take such a
position (it's one that I have *some* attraction to, at a theoretical
level). Note that, contrary to a post of Mike Lorrey's, nothing has really
been "banned". We just haven't acknowledged that the government has a
mandate to pass certain laws bequeathing corporate privileges on trading
associations. I think Mike is logically committed to this scenario.

(2) If you mean, "Is there a way to gain the benefit of limited liability
without the need for state intervention?", again there is (up to a point).
Your unincorporated trading association would have to write into its
contracts with suppliers, customers etc that it would be liable for loss
only up to a certain amount,

Now there are some problems with this. First, why would any supplier etc
sign such a one-sided contract. Well, some might be prepared to if the
benefit was mutual, but this wouldn't normally apply to customers who are
natural persons. Perhaps if your trading association had a monopoly it could
force people to sign such contracts. However, these associations might not
find it easy to grow huge and create monopolies in the first place. They
might never have that kind of market power.

Jerry, it seems to me that a lot of people who call themselves libertarians
imagine we could just abolish all government action, or all government
action except a minimalist police operation plus the military, and the world
would be much the same except for the absence of taxes. I think you have to
think through all the social and political implications. As someone said,
there is nothing "natural" about capitalism, even if it is a good idea. Even
"property" might be a very different concept in this world. How much of the
idea of "property" is natural? Maybe some of it (we don't *necessarily* have
to go all the way with Proudhon: "property is theft"), but exactly what
would be the preconditions for something becoming property in your ideal
system, and why? People like Locke, Nozick and Rothbard have tried to
answer this, but none of the answers are very convincing.

Moreover, even if you are attracted to libertarianism in theory (as part of
me is) how do you get there from here? With all the changes you'd need to
make, you'd need to be very, very careful. If you come to think that
corporations and taxes are *both* distortions of the theoretically best
libertarian-capitalist system, for example, maybe taxes are currently
necessary to ensure that we at least live in the "second best" system. It
might be possible to argue that a system with no taxes but with corporations
is worse than the current system with both.

I don't have strong opinions on these issues, but I do have an intellectual
interest. And I do say that someone with such strong opinions as you have
expressed needs a theory of political obligation to hang his preferred
system on. What if it turns out that we are not politically obliged to
honour contracts with corporations because governments are not morally
entitled to grant limited liability in the first place? There goes the
neighbourhood ... maybe.

Over to you in a minute, but I just want to add that I can't see how any
kind of libertarian philosophy is necessary for transhumanism. I do think
that we need some form of *liberalism* (in the Enlightenment sense) so our
plans cannot be blocked by religious fanatics, etc, but this is a much
weaker and less controversial requirement.

I look forward to your thoughts on all this.



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