Thursday, October 23, 2008

Anarcho-Mercantilism over Market Anarchism

Whenever I see the term market anarchism, I see an oxymoron. However, many anarchists do not notice this, and frequently use the term “market anarchism” over anarcho-capitalism, in blogs and web pages. They claim that the use of this term improves the term anarcho-capitalism, because the original definition of capitalism, as coined by Karl Marx, implies heavy state intervention. Thus, the so-called “left-libertarians” use the term market anarchism over anarcho-capitalism, and emphasize this as more consistent. Still, however, they have no knowledge that even the term “market anarchism” etymologically originates from collectivistic ideas.

Upon first looking at the term “market anarchism,” one first notices the word order. In question, one wonders why most individuals prefer to use the term “market anarchism” over “anarcho-marketeerism.” As in English grammar, the first term, “market,” implies an adjective, and the second term, “anarchism,” implies a noun. As one may notice, the term “market anarchism” implies it as a type of anarchism; the term “anarcho-marketeerism” implies it as a type of marketeerism. One may question the reason behind this distinction.

First, we will demonstrate the contradiction of “market anarchism.” This term, as shown above, implies it as a type of anarchism. It further suggests that a broader ideology, called “anarchism,” does not necessarily require a market. Thus, as “market anarchism” suggests, there exists an ideology, called “anarchism,” in which even market-bashing individuals may identify themselves as. These non-market ideologies might range from anarcho-communism to anarcho-collectivism, in which I deny the compatibility of these to anarchism at all. As some might say it, using the term “market anarchism” implies that you like all kinds of anarchism, including the collectivist types; and the adjective “market” before anarchism, implies merely a preference for a market system in anarchism.

Second, we notice that the term “market” does not function as an adjective. The term “market” functions as a noun. To confirm the grammatical correctness of English, two nouns may not position right next of each other. So, in a grammatician’s view, he or she would not consider “market anarchism” as grammatically correct.

Even though some may consider it ungrammatical, the “market anarchists,” rationally see the term as grammatical. They seem to view the term market before anarchism as an adjective. Since a clear distinction between nouns and adjectives does not exist,[1] the “market anarchists” may still rationally view the term market as an adjective. Therefore, even if market functions as a noun, the market anarchists may still consider their ideology as compatible to “anarchism without adjectives.”

We have proven that using “market anarchism” seems to imply the individual supports “anarchism without adjectives.” However, we have not proven that using the term “market,” in any circumstance, implies a collectivist view.

We will first start defining the word market. The dictionary definition of market, in the general sense, means a public gathering of buyers and sellers. Seeing this definition, one would conclude that buying and selling equals trading, thus we may replace this phrase with trading. Also, as “public gathering” seems too concrete, we will replace it with “association,” which in turn, means “group of individuals.“

We have now redefined market in a more abstract sense, as “a group of individuals who trade.” We now have a formal definition of market.

We may now formally define a “black market” as “a group of individuals who trade outside state jurisdiction”; define “white market” as “a group of individuals who trade within state laws”; and define “free market” as “a group of individuals who trade freely” (as in both the positive and negative sense of freedom[2]); and define “market” as “a group of individuals who trade within this world.“

As the dictionaries seem to define a market as “a group of individuals who trade,” then why should we use the word market when we may just use the word trade? After all, why do we not use “anarcho-trade” instead of “anarcho-market”?

We will instantaneously see the term “anarcho-market” as redundant, as the term market means “a group of individuals who trade.” Besides this, we will note a more important consequence of using the term “market” instead of “trade” after “anarcho.” One will eventually see the term “group” in the definition of market. One will further see that using “group” implies a collectivist mindset. “Anarcho-market” refers to a collectivist ideology, in which groups of individuals trade freely. “Anarcho-trade,” however, refers to free trade, unrestricted by intervention. One would simply abandon the term “anarcho-market” in favor of “anarcho-trade” to avoid the collectivistic denotation of the former term.

Upon abandoning the term “anarcho-market,” one would notice that “anarcho-market” requires “anarcho-trade” (as in free trade), but “anarcho-trade” does not require “anarcho-market.” Therefore, we will conclude “anarcho-trade” as a more general ideology than “anarcho-market”: the latter requires a group of individuals, while the former does not necessarily require a group of individuals.

To show this more clearly, the “market,” by definition, equals the sum of all trade relations. Similarly, as Austrian economists define society as the sum of all individuals, the market represents a society whereas trade represents the individual. Because the market would not exist without trade, and society would not exist without the individual, we should use “trade” instead of “market” where possible to avoid the collectivist denotation of market.

We have finished arguing that we should view “anarcho-trade” as more semantically correct than “market anarchism.” “Anarcho-trade,” however, does not seem like an ideology since the word “trade” functions as a verb, not a noun describing an ideology. We will show a solution using the controversial word “mercantile.“

If one sees “mercantilism,” he or she might refer it to a “protectionist ideology favoring high tariffs.” However, this shows only one definition of “mercantilism.” Prior to Adam Smith using “mercantile system” to refer to the protectionist system in the 18th century, mercantile meant anything related to merchants or trade. All mainstream dictionaries provide two definitions of “mercantilism,” the first one relating to commerce or trade, and the second one relating to the mercantile system. (The Webster and Random House dictionaries list the original meaning first, and the Encarta, Wordsmyth, WordNet and American Heritage dictionaries list the original meaning second.) Thus, in the original form, mercantile refers to a synonym for trade.

Therefore, we may interchangeably use “anarcho-trade” and “anarcho-mercantile.” Appending “-ism” to each would result in “anarcho-tradeism” and “anarcho-mercantilism,” respectively. However, since the word “tradeism” does not appear in any major dictionaries, we should use mercantilism instead. Hence, we should use “anarcho-mercantilism” and “anarcho-mercantilist” to refer to an ideology and a supporter of the ideology, respectively.


  1. We show this on the type-token distinction. We cannot distinguish adjectives (types) and nouns (tokens).
  2. We show that positive and negative liberty behave complementarily. Positive liberty: do any non-aggressive act without aggression. Negative liberty: do any non-aggression act with non-aggression.


I think the term "free market" has more ambiguity than "capitalism." Let us look at the three definitions of "free market":

  1. The current corporatist system, as the mainstream media defines it.
  2. A system based on "sticky" ownership of capital and land, as in the neo-Lockean sense.
  3. A system based on occupancy-and-use of capital and land, as in the mutualistic sense.

In the anarchist blogosphere, both the mutualists and the "anarcho-capitalists" use "free market," which can cause some misrepresentations.

Both the mutualists and the "anarcho-capitalists" define "capitalism" as a free-market with neo-Lockean land ownership. For instance, Kevin Carson, looking at his analysis of Tucker's "land monopoly," defines "capitalism" as a system that has "sticky" land ownership. Shawn P. Wilbur on his blog defined "capitalism" as "sticky ownership of land" too.

Richard Williams on his blog explicitly defines "capitalism" as requiring the "sticky" ownership of land:

For capitalism to become consensual, private land ownership would have to be abolished, so that land "ownership" would become contingent on use of the land.

We have shown that the term "free market" can mean the second or third definition, when "capitalism" only means the second definition. Hence, many Austrian market anarchists like to use the less ambiguous term "capitalism" rather than "free market" to describe their thoughts.

Likewise, many "anarcho-capitalists" consider the term "market anarchism" as umbrella term for mutualism and "anarcho-capitalism." The "anarcho-capitalists" therefore dislike the term "market anarchism" and choose to continue using "anarcho-capitalism."

Furthermore, Kevin Carson considers "sticky" (neo-Lockean) land ownership as a form of corporatist privilege (see Carson's comments on Tucker's "land monopoly"). Hence, Carson will probably use the label "vulgar libertarian" to any market anarchist who also support "sticky" ownership of land.

Alex in his past said that he opposes "private property." As predicted, Alex has strawmanned Cork on "private property."

Think about it: those who question "private property" would be free to organize as they see fit if they - accept "private property". This isn't actually a compromise then, it's rather one-sided.

I think Cork use "private property" to mean the "non-aggression principle."

However, I choose to avoid the term "capitalism" too because I dislike to describe things with two or three word labels. I also notice the ambiguity of the terms "private property" and "property rights." Because even neoconservatives use "private property," I consider the term "private property" as a glittering generality.

Unlike Alex, I support "private property" in certain contexts of the term and oppose it on other contexts. Also, I support "corporations" in certain contexts of the term and oppose it in other contexts. Similarly, I support "economic egalitarianism" in the sense of the "equal pay for equal work" doctrine but oppose "economic egalitarianism" in the sense of violent intervention in the marketplace. I do not view words to only have one meaning.

Individualism Anarchism

An Anarchist FAQ seemed to have influenced many prominent "left-libertarians." Roderick T. Long and Charles W. Johnson, for instance, uses the term "individualist anarchism" to refer to only the 19th century anarchist philosophers who advocated economic individualism, and excludes 20th century market anarchists. However, such strange definition of "individualist anarchism" originated from An Anarchist FAQ.

Therefore, for historical consistency, I like to define "anarcho-capitalism" as a branch of "individualist anarchism." An Anarchist FAQ's "anti-capitalist" bias has redefined the term "individualist anarchist" to only refer to those 19th century individualist anarchists.

Lysander Spooner, a 19th century individualist anarchist, supported sticky land ownership and advocated almost the same economic policies as Murray Rothbard. The FAQ, however, did not admit Rothbard as an "individualist anarchist" just because Rothbard use the word "capitalism" in the positive sense.

Ironically, both Tucker and Spooner themselves had never used the term "individualist anarchism" nor "individualist anarchist," not even once. Only later writers coined the term "individualist anarchism" to refer to variety of anarchism that advocates economic individualism.

Spooner, at that time, used "capitalism" in the negative sense because the word meant that way during the 19th century. However, the definition of "capitalism" changed during the 20th century, so individualists anarchists had begun to use "capitalism" in the positive sense starting from the 20th century. The FAQ therefore misinterpreted Rothbard's and Spooner's different usages of "capitalism." The FAQ seems to not actually understand what Spooner and Rothbard meant by "capitalism." The FAQ denied Rothbard and all other 20th century market anarchists as "individualist anarchists" just because those 20th century anarchists use the new definition of "capitalism."

Inconsistency between the Definition of "Capitalism"

Many individuals have a positive view of capitalism, but a negative view of state capitalism. Capitalism and state capitalism are synonyms. A state means a monopoly on the use of force. Statism means the advocacy of a state. Therefore, state capitalism is no more than the advocacy of a state and capitalism. The state may be minimal or may be huge. It is still a state. Therefore, laissez-faire capitalism is a subset of state capitalism. Individuals who are supportive of laissez-faire capitalism are state capitalists.

Some anarcho-capitalists also differentiate capitalism and state capitalism. If anarcho-capitalists do not equate capitalism with state capitalism, then capitalism must be a synonym anarcho-capitalism, since the only other kind of capitalism other than state capitalism is anarcho-capitalism. Then why do they use the redundant adjective 'anarcho' to differentiate the word capitalism? There must be a drive to use 'anarcho.' Therefore, state capitalism must be a synonym for capitalism if the word 'anarcho' is not redundant.

It is also weird that some defend the existence of corporations but oppose corporate capitalism. Corporate capitalism means nothing more than capitalism with corporations. Those who defend the existence of corporations, thus, must support corporate capitalism.


Many people consider the word "free market capitalism" to be a contradiction. This is because the word "capitalism" for some means an economic system for state exploitation. In that sense, they may be correct if they define them prior to their argument. But a combination of words is not just the worst of both meanings. The term "free market" before "capitalism" is a modifier-adjective. Why do some left-libertarians reject modifier-adjectives?

The modifier-adjective before the word "capitalism" represents a nonlinear transformation, which results in an entirely semantic meaning of the phrase. The phrase should be treated as a different meaning, not just a combination of the words. This is equivalent to the modifier "American" in the word "American liberalism," which is entirely different from liberalism, the European definition. However, in America, the modifier "American" is ommitted, because it is an abbreviation. This is similar to the ommission of "American" in "American football." These two sports are entirely different, yet the same word. Capitalism may be a free market, just like European liberalism. If they reject modifier-adjectives, why don't left-libertarians omit all modifier-adjectives? It is impossible to speak if they omit all, thus it is irrational to omit some modifier-adjectives but not others.
Anarcho-freemarketeerism is composed of the parts "anarcho," meaning an- ("not") and "archy" (meaning "authority" or "ruler"). It is known to socialists as both anti-state and ant-capitalism, while to free-market libertarians as anti-state. The other part "freemarketeer," meaning advocacy for free markets. The word is the reversed version of "free market anarchism," which is similar to the structure of "anarcho-capitalism," with the adjective "anarcho." If "anarcho" is the adjective, then it describes an anarchist version of the ideology. If "anarcho" is the ideology, the adjective means a subset of it. However, many words, expecially relating to anarchy, can be reversed without any modification in semantic meaning. A common example is "social anarchism" and "anarcho-socialism." These mean exactly the same version of "libertarian socialism." The word "free" means freedom and the word liberty is a word from the French word "liberté." The word "free" does not exist in France, so the France use the word "Marché libre" (meaning "liberty market") in substitute for "free market." The absance of the word is common in many European languages. 1 Other philosophers, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, would argue that humans are always free. This originates from the belief in "free will," which is a mental phenomenon. Free-market libertarians define "liberty" as "free from physical constraints," which would mean non-aggression.2 The word "marketeerism" sounds ungrammatical, but it is logically consistent. The word "marketeer" means someone who supports free markets. The -eer suffix implies someone who engages with the activity. 3 The phrase "free market" is a noun, and the hyphenated version, "free-market" is an adjective. 4 Appending -eer at the end would make it a noun. Is it correct to add an -ism as the suffix of the word? The suffix, -ism usually means a doctrine. In other words ending in -eer, it is sound to add the suffix "-ing," similar to "engineering" and "mountaineering." The word "libertarian" has a definition meaning an adjective, and appending -ism make it a doctrine. But the noun definition would not work. Adding -ism to "freemarketeer" is in the sense of adding -ism in "Rothbardian" + "-ism" = "Rothbardianism". Both of the words "Rothbardian" and "freemarketeer" are describing an attribute of a group of individuals who identify themselves as "Rothbardians" and "freemarketeers." In that sense, "freemarketeerism" has the same sense as "Rothbardianism." This is the same as "heroism," describing all heroes.


Stefan Molyneux, MA said...

Great blog -- I don't know if you've had a chance to listen to Freedomain Radio, but it is the most popular philosophy show on the Internet, and is run by an anarchist... -

Mike Gogulski said...

Thanks for explaining your use of this unusual term. Makes sense.