(Carson 2006) Contract feudalism

Carson, Kevin A. Contract feudalism. Individual. 2006 Feb; 43:2–9. Available from: http://www.individualist.org.uk/app/download/5785157122/2006febindiv_em.pdf [entire journal issue]. Reprinted by the Libertarian Alliance as a standalone monograph, Economic Notes No. 105: http://www.libertarian.co.uk/lapubs/econn/econn105.pdf. Accessed 2012 Dec 19. Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/6D1yo5qKu.

Carson offers a left-libertarian perspective on the social problem of arbitrary domination of workers by employers, including domination outside the workplace, an issue addressed by Elizabeth Anderson in “Adventures in contract feudalism”. Anderson had proposed restrictions on freedom of contract as a solution. Some “vulgar libertarian” (right-libertarian) comments on Anderson’s article had insisted that such restrictions were unnecessary, as workers had alternative choices that would limit the employer’s ability to impose feudal conditions via contract: “It’s a free market. If you don’t like your employer’s rules, then work somewhere else.” While Anderson and the right-libertarians had differed over the acceptability of the range of choices available to workers in the absence of Anderson’s proposed restrictions on freedom of contract, both maintained that that range of choices was the result of a free market.

Carson instead adduces historical evidence that the underlying cause of contract feudalism—the imbalance in relative bargaining power between employers and workers—is the outcome of systematic, and often ongoing, uses of state power backed by violence to limit the resources and options available to workers, while expanding those available to employers. The early history of this process is known in Marxism as “primitive accumulation”, but Carson shows that it was also well recognized by early libertarian authors such as Benjamin Tucker, Franz Oppenheimer, and Albert Jay Nock. As a “market anarchist”, Carson sees the injustice of contract feudalism as a corollary to the unjust, violently enforced absence of a free market in historically existing capitalism; his proposed solution is the creation of a genuinely free market through the abolition of the state. He maintains that in a truly free market, the bargaining power of labor would exceed that of capital. While “in a free market, employers would be within their rights to make the kinds of demands associated with contract feudalism”, they would be powerless to enforce such demands, and no injustice would result.



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