Stefan Molyneux and Peter Joseph Debate: What Was Missing?

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In case some of you haven’t heard, the internet-famous anarcho-capitalist author and political theorist Stefan Molyneux debated Peter Joseph from The Zeitgeist Movement on September 23rd. This was a one-on-one debate about ideas for a sustainable economic future, so Molyneux’s philosophy of unregulated free-market capitalism was put on trial. For those of you interested, I’ll link the debate here.

I’m writing this blog to offer up my perspective on this debate as an anarcho-communist, because I often feel that a truly leftist perspective, that is, a class-based perspective on these important issues is either ignored, or left out of the debate entirely. While I side with Peter Joseph and his critiques of Stefan Molyneux’s proposals, I also think there were a few key points that Joseph missed, or didn’t drive home hard enough when he was given the opportunity. I’m not entirely sure if it’s just his background in academia or if perhaps he just couldn’t connect the dots, but there were times when the real class issues surrounding the debate were exposed, but were left untouched. On one hand, you have a very reactionary worldview from Molyneux, who likely believes that class society is justified by market forces, and that poor farmers struggling to find potable drinking water “voluntarily” choose that life. On the other hand, you have Peter Joseph, who does seem to acknowledge class society exists and that capitalism is inherently coercive, but does not sufficiently explain why it has to be, and will always be coercive. If Joseph could’ve articulated this point a bit more than he did, I really think he could have sealed the deal on this debate.

Now before I get into specifics too deeply, I want to first address Stefan Molyneux.

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No, I’m not going to go easy on this guy, because he’s exactly what’s wrong with the internet. Over the years he has consistently used his podcasts and videos to promote one of the worst political and economic theories out there, and that’s anarcho-capitalism. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve come across that have fallen for this garbage just because it’s supposedly “anti-establishment”. People like Stefan Molyneux are really doing a disservice to people and poisoning the well with this kind of nonsense. I’m not going to attack anarcho-capitalism because it was invented by bourgeois economists and business owners (even though it was), because there’s really no need to do so. It can be discredited on merit alone.

The problem with anarcho-capitalism is that it makes some pretty bold assumptions that hold absolutely no basis in reality. Some of those assumptions are as follows:

  • All transactions, trades, and exchanges in a free market are voluntary and equally beneficial to all parties involved. For example, when a worker sells his labor-power to a capitalist, this is a voluntary agreement. The worker has needs, just like the capitalist, and so this is how they mutually benefit one another. No exploitation exists in this exchange.
  • The Free Market system is free from all coercion and only the state restricts individual and economic freedom with the use of force, in which the state has a monopoly.
  • Property rights are a natural extension of the concept of “self-ownership”.

I want to address these points briefly, so to begin let’s focus on the first, and most important bullet here about transactions in free market capitalism being voluntary. I say this is the most important point because whenever you challenge this assumption and question it, the answers you get from the anarcho-capitalists are woefully inadequate or just downright laughable. Stefan Molyneux’s answer to Peter Joseph was the latter. Peter Joseph challenged Molyneux on this point by stating that most people must participate in some trade or transaction in order to survive. Molyneux’s brilliant response?

  • People don’t have to trade. How do they have to trade? 98% of the world’s surface is uninhabited. They can go live in the woods and grow their own food and hunt their own animals. I don’t understand how they have to trade.

    That’s right. If you don’t like having to sell your labor in a capitalist system, you should just go live in the fucking woods and grow food on your own. I’ve heard some pretty bad rebuttals and counterarguments, but that was by far one of the worst. But back to the point — exchanges and transactions are not voluntary, nor are they mutually beneficial. As much as the ancaps want to harp about employment being voluntary, it doesn’t take much thinking from the average working person to realize this is a fairy tale. Do you remember what your first job was? Did you go straight to a professional job with a comfortable salary? or did you have to work at McDonald’s or some other retail joint that you hated? You see, there are millions of people just in the United States that work in the fast food industry. They aren’t paid very much and they generally don’t find lots of opportunity in this field. They are not working for Arby’s because they really want to work at Arby’s. They could care less about the company. They work for Arby’s because they have needs that they cannot meet without some kind of income. The only thing they have to bring to the market is their labor-power (ability to do work). They sell this to a franchise like Arby’s, and they get paid a wage in return.

    Now once again, Stefan Molyneux will argue that this is all “voluntary”, and no exploitation has taken place. If you don’t like working at Arby’s, you can always just quit and work somewhere else. So why are we not seeing droves of Americans in the fast food industry quit their jobs and move on to those high-paying professional careers? I’ll tell you why: because this is a class issue. The bourgeoisie have complete control of the means of production, which means they also control how the workers are paid in wages and how the profit from production is used, thus giving rise to a class division. There is a real, tangible disposition when it comes to employment prospects based on class.

    People participate in economics due to the need to survive. In contrast, the capitalist participates in order to exploit; he must, as he does not produce any value of his own. If I’m hungry and cold, the market is not going to feed and clothe me. I need money. I need a job. Where will I work? Anywhere that can pay me enough to meet my needs. Stefan: THIS IS COERCION!!!! Working for a capitalist is not a voluntary decision.

    In order for the free-market system to work as ancaps wish, current monopolies would have to be abolished and we would have to (guess what) expropriate all major capitalists and start from scratch. Tear down all the factories, completely rid the world of concentrated wealth and let people all start off on equal footing. But if every man were equal and had equal access to the earth’s resources, why would one human build a factory for another human? We wouldn’t. We do so because we have no other choice.

    And that brings me to the second bullet about the state being a violent, coercive institution with a monopoly on force. As I have already shown, a free market capitalist system is coercive by design. Peter Joseph did bring this up, but when questioned multiple times by Molyneux on how it was coercive, his argumentation seemed to fall flat. This is where I believe the class issues really should’ve come into play.

    Capitalism is inherently coercive because there’s an ownership class (bourgeoisie) and then there’s a working class (proletariat). One class owns the means of production, the other does not. The entire market system depends on the proletariat performing wage labor for the bourgeoisie so that the bourgeois can expand capital. The primary means of income for the proletarian is from the selling of his or her labor in this way. Peter Joseph did not make this point about the relationship between classes clearly enough. Instead, he seemed to just mention some things about artificial scarcity being built into a free market system. While that has truth to it, it also serves as an opening for Stefan Molyneux to just blame the state for violence and scarcity instead.

    capitalism-cartoonweb

    Stefan Molyneux speaks of the state as if it’s something separate from the capitalist mode of production. He fails to realize that the state is an organ of class rule. Yet again, Peter Joseph skipped the opportunity to point out the obvious. Most free market libertarians and anarcho-capitalists rely on this argument about “true” capitalism never existing because the state corrupts it. I just want to ask them….at what point did the state become something separate from capitalism? Can they point me to the exact moment in time when some alien force took over the state apparatus and started corrupting the market?

    If the state has a monopoly on force, all this means is that the ruling-class has a monopoly on force! What prevents the workers from taking over a factory and running in democratically? The law does! The entire concept of private property is something that requires the initiation of force. This is why the state exists. Molyneux is a statist even though he doesn’t want to admit it. If he advocates for private police or armies, then what he’s really saying is that he wants to replace the current state with a privatized state. A state that goes to the highest bidder. In the end, that is no different from what we have today. The state is a direct result of the class contradictions inherent in capitalism.

    In conclusion, anarcho-capitalism would not ever be taken seriously by the bourgeoisie, and therefore, it has no chance of ever happening in any practical reality. If the anarcho-capitalists really do stand on anti-authoritarian principles, then they need to defend class society, which is authoritative in nature. We do not need the rich.

    Peter-Joseph

    Now that I’ve spoken extensively about Stefan Molyneux, I would like to move on to Peter Joseph. Most of you probably know Peter from the Zeitgeist films he’s produced over the past 5 years. He’s a very talented film maker, an articulate speaker, and I must say that I commend him for taking on some of these right-wing arguments head first. I would say I agree with Peter Joseph about capitalism probably 95% of the way. His criticisms of free markets seem to get better with time, as does he. I think Peter Joseph is evolving and refining his knowledge on most important subjects. However, where I do not support Joseph is his proposed solutions to the problems we face.

    Peter Joseph proposes a resource-based economy. This is where the monetary system and markets are abolished in favor of an economy where computerized automatic systems on a global scale would provide for the needs of everyone. Most resource allocation would be done by these computer systems as well. I don’t necessarily oppose this, because it has it’s benefits. But what is missing from every film Joseph has made and every talk he has given is how we reach that society. How do we get from here to there?

    You see, the brutal and oppressive class system we see today was not born out nowhere. It was not something that was “embraced” by a majority and organically came to fruition. There was a bitter class struggle that took place where the bourgeoisie overthrew the monarchy. To establish their order, they needed a clear plan of action focused on the goal of a new society. But the monarchy was not just going to give up without a fight. Just as if we decide someday to all embrace the resource-based economy, quit our jobs, grow our own food, and throw all of our money out in front of a bank, this will not end class oppression. The bourgeoisie will not just hand over control of the means of production. I don’t know of any ruling-class historically that has done so.

    This is what anarchist-communism and other schools of leftist thought offer that Peter Joseph and The Zeitgeist Movement does not. We understand the concept of class struggle. I think Joseph is beginning to see this as well, but he never embraces communism, because he seems a bit confused about what it really means. His definition of communism still equates to the loss of individual freedom and massive state bureaucracy. This is very discouraging, because the alternative Joseph offers to the growing fad of right-wing market fundamentalism is utopian socialism. Only Joseph never wants to mention the term “socialist” or “communist” when describing his solutions.

    This is what I mean. Any discussion of left-wing ideology is always left out of the debate. It can’t even be discussed now because no one understands it. No one even attempts to understand it. And Peter Joseph is doing just as much of a disservice to people looking for answers as Stefan Molyneux and the anarcho-capitalists. I am glad he’s at least not promoting such a reactionary view of economics, however, he’s promoting illusions about a new world that he thinks will just “arise” eventually when people get tired of the current system.

    I’m going to conclude this article by reiterating what I’ve already mentioned. What was missing from this debate was a class-based, leftist perspective. I think the correct way to confront anarcho-capitalists is to force them to defend and justify the authoritarian nature of class society. Once again, I encourage you to watch the debate between Molyneux and Joseph that I linked in the first paragraph and respond with your own ideas and thoughts on the matter.

    – EJ

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20 thoughts on “Stefan Molyneux and Peter Joseph Debate: What Was Missing?

  1. Great article, EJ! Your critique was spot on.
    As both a self-identifying anarcho-communist as well as a strong supporter of and advocate for the Zeitgeist Movement, I was wondering if you might address the “from here to there” question. The anarchist in me sees the ever-growing distrust of the state and bourgeoisie by the working class as potentially beneficial – perhaps we will continue to turn inward to co-ops, intentional communities and civil disobedience because we see the flaws in fiat currency, power structures, hierarchies, etc. Perhaps from there an organic birthing of RBE might spring forth? I realize the fragility of such a hope; timing is crucial, because such small movements could be squelched by state power unless they were to rise up en masse simultaneously. On the other hand, we could falcon-dive back into feudalism if the state puts its boot down hard on such a movement. Just curious if you had any theories on possible solutions, perhaps some step-by-steps?
    Thanks kindly in advance.

  2. Cool stuff, but I feel as though even your criticisms of Molyneux could be better. I don’t think you addressed his point about going into the woods and growing your own food very well. For some people this might seem as a possible alternative, especially because it is nonviolent, but there are reasons why it is not a real alternative for many and why it shouldn’t have to be. It is not a real alternative because not everybody has the privilege to be able to do that, with the right resources, knowledge, etc. It also shouldn’t be, because social wealth over the centuries has been built by labor and labor is entitled to it. Also, it is elitist to say to others to choose a purely nonviolent action like moving away, because the way that social wealth has been monopolized has been through systemic violence. Maybe this is nit-picky, and you do make many good points, but I hope you understand what I am trying to get across. Anyways, thanks for your thoughts!

    • You’re not going to find a great many patch of woods in America that is not either a) a national reserve or b) privately or industrially owned. So, the sheer willful ignorance regarding the statement, ‘If you don’t want to participate – go live out in the woods’ is essentially imploring people to violate the property rights of others…something Stephan professes to be steadfastly against: violating the rights of others. So he’s really being willfully disingenuous or just blatantly deceitful…which makes me wonder of Stephan knows what he’s talking about at all.

      • Yeah, you got the point missed by the author and Peter. This is not a fallacy tossed by Molyneaux, it is a very lie. In human history, when there were lands free to live, mankind enslaved the labor using force or ideologies (principally with church’s support) . Nowadays, all lands are demarcated, so it’s not free to live. The world has been entirely mapped. This is why the labor is “free”: thats the modern coercion (some calls modern slavery).

    • Molyneux is an asinine person. He speaks as if it’s possible to actually live outside of nature. Like he doesn’t take showers or take a dump? Like “go live in the woods” even has meaning. Do termites not eat the framework of houses? Does bacteria not grow on your dirty dishes?

  3. I very much appreciate this article and your patience in writing it. I attempted to communicate with some of the ancaps that responded to the video and posted in groups that I’m a member of, and I decided it’s not worth the sisyphian effort needed to break through the stone barrier around their ideology. As for the “there to here” question, me and a friend are attempting to find that answer through research and experimentation. Feel free to look at my blog if you’re interested.

  4. There is little to no discussion about how heterosexual relationships play a part in capitalism. Fathers are forced to compete with each other rather than be allies. Mothers are entering the workforce in a time when both parents have to work. This is a problem.

    Strippers make more tips during estrus. Money is not complimentary to either gender.

    Gays not being allowed to marry and take care of children who need to be adopted and valued is a huge problem that the conservative base will be defeated by.
    Why are there few homosexual right wingers? Probably because it seems everything from the right wing depends on social hierarchies. Social hierarchies would not exist if we were equal. Money systems necessarily mean that a few will have control of a majority of the money supply. It has necessarily meant rule by usury and inflation throughout history.

    There was no discussion of the history of imperial acquisition. An example of this would be the Beaver Wars. One european colonial power provided weapons for a certain indigenous tribe, another european colonial power provided weapons for a second indigenous tribe, which escalated to violence within competing tribes for beaver pelts. People don’t seem to realize that pirates of the caribbean is just a romanticized grand theft auto game with boats for white people.

    No discussion of the oirgins of libertarianism as it’s known in the U.S.

    http://www.alternet.org/visions/true-history-libertarianism-america-phony-ideology-promote-corporate-agenda

    No discussion of Antony Sutton’s research about Wall Street funding the Bolshevik Revolution, sending technologies to the Soviet Union as well as Nazi Germany. No reference to the collusion of U.S. corporations such as IBM with Nazi Germany. There was no discussion of the events that took place concerning the Spanish Revolution. For some reason, everyone think it was just a COINCIDENCE that both nazi backed fascists as well as communists violently oppressed the anarchists.

    Why are proxies for corporations that work in government even considered “government officials”? If it’s the case that each U.S. president’s (for instance) campaign is funded by banks and corporations, how is it even a tradition to blame the government? Molyneux speaks of government as a gun. To advocate for the control of an idea is one thing, but oddly enough, Molyneux advocated for gun control. As if prohibition works? He would disarm us of our collective motivations.

    There is no discussion of Wilhelm Reich’s position (described in his book “Character Analysis”) that history is an example of how homo normalis has oppressed with disdain and contempt the schizoid types, those who are creative, emotional, and divergent thinkers.

    There was no discussion of an objective morality within the universe that used examples of mutualism within the animal kingdom, the phenomenon of anxiety when watching a birth (because you want the mother and the baby to be born without complications), or a simple friendship that an elephant can make with a dog that resulted in a period of depression when the dog died.

    Little to no discussion of territoriality and the behavior of predators in relation to prey. The idea of property is an expression of territorialism it seems that people who advocate for societies with money are the most territorial. Overfishing is happening because so many private companies (who probably have proxies that control state regulations on fishing) competing with each other create the scarcity by overfishing by assuming private property rights in the first place. An example would be Australia’s orange roughy.

    The territorial dialectic within capitalism can be found by reading one of Ayn Rand’s quotes about Native Americans when she was speaking at West Point (you know, that statist military academy in New York that teaches imperial violence as a means to an end? Like, a total violations of the so-called “Non-Aggression Principle”)?

    “[The Native Americans] didn’t have any rights to the land and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using…. What was it they were fighting for, if they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their “right” to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or maybe a few caves above it. Any white person who brought the element of civilization had the right to take over this continent.” * Source: “Q and A session following her Address To The Graduating Class Of The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, March 6, 1974”

  5. Great article! I’m new to Anarcho-Communism – I’ve been listening/reading a lot from Kropotkin – and I really enjoyed your focus on the class issue to prove Anarcho-Capitalism will likely never happen or if it did it would result in something similar to what we have now.

    I’m really curious how familiar you are with the train of thought of a Resource Based Economy and how it would work to conclude it Utopian Socialism. I think the reason why it’s not put on a left or right scale is because the method is based on authority, morality, or romanticism. While it does come to the same conclusions as most “left” philosophies, the method to arrive at such conclusion is by way of The Scientific Method used directly in the social system.

    It’s really about increasing society’s degrees of freedom by decreasing the requirement of human input via automation. Automation isn’t just used to produce abundant goods, it’s used to strategically share scarce goods, and even automate decisions making. Because the scientific method is used in every facet of life, it is a technical problem -not a political one- and therefore can be calculated and arrived at using known variables – this is how decision making would be automated too. Honestly, I think a Resource Based Economy is modern-day Anarcho-Communism because proponents of it (like Kropotkin), while they recognized technology reduced human labor, they were not alive to see modern day technology. I guess you can also think of it as a Cybernated Gift Economy (if you’re familiar with Gift Economies – check it out). Open-source Everything! 🙂

    I do agree, we REALLY need a tangible plan.. and fast. One option I thought of is starting a co-op that functions internally like a Resource Based Economy but uses the current system externally to fuel it until it is fully sustainable. Once it is fully sustainable it’s able to expand to other neighboring communities and show them how to organize and automate production/distribution. It can work within the limits of the legal system too – Peak Efficiency, sharing, and automation aren’t illegal so I don’t see how this couldn’t be started in what we have now to get to the point to override the establishment – they can’t claim power over people who aren’t willing to give it to them, and why would a population who is living free acknowledge any power structure?

    There’s much more to it than that, of course, but I’ve already written a novel… Again, great article! I hope proponents of Anarcho-Communism and a Resource Based Economy can work together – we all want the same thing, after all. 🙂

    Peace and love… with science and technology!

    • Leo. Calm, polite, yet thought provoking words with some interesting ideas and references. Respect due for the respect you give. If everyone acted/spoke/discussed in this way there would be more open, friendly and constructive dialogue. Now, what’s this about a book……:-). Kind regards, Puddletownelvis (Ross)

  6. If you don’t like it that rich people own factories and companies, why don’t you start a business with likeminded people in a more horizontal fashion? In this way, you avoid the arbitrary removal of property of expropriation.

  7. This is an excellent article. When I first got to the part in which you were talking about the points that Peter failed to make, I felt that you had not given quite enough attention to all the interrupting and cutting off that Stefan was doing. Then, I read further and realized that maybe he wouldn’t have made those points, even if he had not been so rudely interrupted so often. I also don’t know much more about communism than the common understanding of it. But, from what you wrote in your article, I have to say that Anarcho communism is vastly superior to anarcho capitalism, which I consider even more lacking in empathy and responsibility for the environment and the well being of all of humanity, than our current system is. It is hard to imagine that anything could be worse than our current system…but I think ancap would be, in several ways. I really like what Leo had to say in his first comment above. I agree with him that NL/RBE and Anarcho Communism, seems to actually be quite compatible with each other….judging from what you said in your article. The values seem to be very similar although the approaches might be somewhat different. Ancap values seem completely wrong to me on so many levels.

  8. There are many problems with the Molyneux understanding of human and market behaviour, and many reasons why his idea for a solution is ridiculous and will not work. The author of this article has explained a few.

    His first criticism of Peter Joseph is that he did not explain that money based systems are innately coercive.
    Even though Joseph seems to spend most of the conversation repeating and trying to explain this point to Molenuex.
    He talked about “structural violence”, how capitalism is based on everyone seeking personal advantage, how the state is a natural byproduct of a competitive money based system where people seeking competitive advantage over others, and other points on this issue.

    His other criticism of Peter Joseph is that he did not keep in the conceptual framework of the author and stick to labels like “communism” and “socialism”.
    This is a simple misunderstanding of a Resource Based Economy.
    Joseph explains often in his films that these “isms” are models in a paradigm which is still based around money and ownership, while a Resource Based Economy is instead based on a natural law scientific approach to human needs and the resources and laws of the planet.

    The author has more to learn from Peter Joseph and would benefit from watching the Zeitgeist films.
    However in doing so he must be OPEN to LEARNING NEW THINGS and CHANGING HIS MIND in the pursuit of truth and understanding, and not get caught in a COMPETITIVE MINDSET of trying to defend and justify his current opinions as right.

    This should be the criticism of the conversation between Joseph and Molenuex.
    That no progress and benefit will come unless one has a mindset of cooperation and openness, with the desire to learn and change, in the pursuit of truth and understanding.
    This type of conversation is called “dialectic”, and exemplified by Socrates in the Platonic Dialogues.

    This is also a direct analogy for the difference between money based and Resource Based mindsets.

    Resource Based Economy is based on cooperation of people, ideas, and technology, with openness and sharing of goods in a needs-based framework, which is able to change and improve based on the improvement of our scientific understanding, in the pursuit of accurate understanding of the natural laws we live in and the truth about how to meet human needs in the most effective, renewable, sustainable, and life-enriching way.

    The reason the conversation failed was that Molenuex was stuck in a mindset which is a direct metaphore for the capitalist mindset.
    He is interested in WINNING. In, as he describes it “landing punches” and “knocking out” Peter Joseph who makes clear that he is only interested in cooperation and working together in order to learn.
    Molenuex repeatedly refers to the conversation as a “debate” and gives a commentary on the conversation in which he spends the first few minutes talking about how great at WINNING DEBATES he is.
    His mindset is competitive, and is not interested in the well being of Joseph, or what is true. Only in beating his competition.

    Whether it be a competitive attitude to conversations and ideas, or a competitive attitude to resources and meeting needs in a society; with this mindset we are left in conflict and violence, stagnated, unable to improve, and with no one actually winning.

    With this conversation being a microcosm that illustrates the macrocosm of society.

  9. As long as we identify ourselves with either a left or right position in the political spectrum, we are giving the political paradigm itself a legitemacy that is no longer justifiable technically or socially. If we want sustainable social justice, we don’t merely want to look after the working classes, as this in itself artificially perpetuates their percieved identity as an underclass, and which would keep them vulnerable to future abuses when their system of protection falters and corrupts (which is inevitable if we look at historical precedents).
    What we need is to emplower them to the point where they no longer are the working classes – a decision being made for us in any case by technological unemployment. Artificial intelligence is rendering repetitive human labour obsolete at an accelerating rate. Less and less people are eligible to recieve an income, and governments are losing their ability to support them from a shrinking pool of tax revenue from those still in a job. Hence capitalism is eating itself alive, and we are already seeing austerity measures as governments are going bankrupt. The resource based economy is the inevitable re-configuration we must make as we shrug off the chrysallis of our dying system and make the phase transition into a planetary civilisation.

  10. tzm and ancom are working towards very similar goals and have many overlapping interests. there are differences in the methods of analysis and proposed solutions, but we should definitely join efforts to work towards the commonalities we share!

  11. Pingback: Both Statist, Communists and Anarcho-Capitalists Fall in Love | David Emeron: Sonnets

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