It’s healthy for right anarchists to talk to mutualists now and then. It reminds them what it’s like for statists. One fine example is in conversations about intellectual property. Mutualists feel about private property the same way anarcho-capitalists feel about intellectual property–an outdated thought habit of dubious origin that enriches the rich at the expense of the poor. But capitalist ideas about property are deeply entrenched just like intellectual property ideas for statists. Let’s listen in on a typical conversation between an anarchist and a statist.
Andy Anarchist: It’s unjust for a person to limit the use of intellectual property. Intellectual property is extortion.
Stefan Statist: But providing knowledge is an important function and worthy of compensation.
Andy: I’m not taking anything from you by using your knowledge.
Stefan: Sure you are! The fact that anyone can use the knowledge I produced means I can’t charge for its use. That means I don’t get paid!
Andy: I understand your position, but your need to manufacture a market for your good doesn’t justify violence.
Stefan: But, without a market for knowledge, there’s no incentive for knowledge-producers like me. Knowledge will be under-produced!
Andy: “Under”-produced!? Who are you to tell the market how much to produce?
Andy seems to have him on the ropes by building on a bedrock of moral principles. But watch how the anarcho-capitalist changes positions when the topic is private property. (The use of the term “private property” unfortunately still requires a brief left anarchist vocabulary lesson. Personal property are the things that I use: my computer on which I’m typing this, my toothbrush, the house I live in, the tractor I use to plow my field. Private property are the things that I claim to own even though other people use them: the apartment I rent out, the factory where my employees work, etc.) Listen to the anarcho-capitalist put capitalism ahead of free markets and see if it sounds familiar.
Murray Mutualist: It’s unjust to limit the use of property that you are not using. Private property is extortion.
Andy Ancap: But, providing capital is an important function and worthy of compensation.
Murray: I’m not taking anything from you by using the property you haven’t the capacity or inclination to use yourself.
Andy: Sure you are! The fact that anyone can come along and use my property means I can’t rent it to anyone else.
Murray: I understand your position, but your need to manufacture a market for your rental goods doesn’t justify violence.
Andy: But, without a market for rental capital, it will be under-produced.
Murray: My, my. Look who’s so wise. Would you rather have free markets or capitalism?
The faith of the anarcho-capitalist that the market would provide knowledge even without a market seems to have suddenly vanished. She begins to sound a lot like the statist, wringing his hands over the collapse of the market that once seemed so essential but suddenly aware that it was the property convention that created the market and not the other way around.
Right anarchists will respond to this by pointing out that private property differs from intellectual property in that it is exclusive. If one person uses it, another cannot. But the connection of this fact to a justification for private property is tenuous. To the two people involved in a transaction, private property looks exactly like intellectual property.
The next time you find yourself befuddled by the mutualist who just can’t see why private property is essential, try substituting intellectual property for private property and see if it doesn’t make more sense.