The great lesson of China’s assent has been that things which appeared to us inherently connected are now revealed as two separate entities that exist independently. Their creation of capitalism without democracy creates space for a whole set of apparently contradictory systems of government. Here, I will be discussing the possibility of free market socialism. Where China can have productive capitalist enterprise without individual liberty or free markets, might we be able to create free market libertarianism with social ownership (social and/or state) of for profit enterprise.
Are not the British railways a classic example of capitalism without a market? The fact that the trains are privately run (they actually aren’t privately owned) does not stop the fact that there is no competition with another provider. This is surely what leads to high prices and poor service. When Kings Cross and St Pancras both ran trains to Edinburgh there was clear competition. Two train company’s were fighting for your custom. So might we stop arguing for nationalisation of the railways (which would remain a monopoly, just a state monopoly) and instead argue for a free market. The way I suggest this might be possible is if more than one company can run trains on a given line. If when I arrived at the station I was offered a Virgin train for £10 in ten minutes or a Tesco train in an hour for £5 we might see some actual free market competition. Obviously one effect will be that trains will crowd around the busy times, but is that not what a central control system aims to do? The worry might be that no one would run trains late when there are fewer passengers, a service which is useful to a large number of people. However, given that the companies would be free to run those services at any price they wished might they choose to operate a number of very small trains at high price throughout the night?
The final leap of the imagination would then be that groups of customers would be free to set up a cooperative to run trains. The commuters alliance might buy one train and start with one morning service and one evening service. Members would be guaranteed a seat and any vacancies could be sold off. Instead of having capitalism without markets, we would have markets with a mixture of ownership types. All manner of niche ticket types might emerge, and prices would be kept in check by free market competition.
I have used the trains as an example. Clearly there is something about a train line which is inherently monopolistic, so I claim my arguments might be more applicable in other realms.
Let me finish with an arrogant generalisation:
Capitalism and free markets are enemies. The capitalist will always prefer the monopoly and control of the market. How can we encourage the free market with a willful disregard for ownership type? Capitalism and free markets are independent entities. Free markets (free exchange of commodities) are the aim, with or without capitalism (private ownership of the means of production).
The right often uses arguments in favour of markets to justify capitalism but anyone can see they are two separate modes and are not dependent on each other.
The great question then becomes how might a system of taxation and regulation be designed which encourages mixed ownership (anti-capitalist and anti-state) whilst retaining free markets? Some people might claim my insistence on taxation and regulation as the only means to foster this new order is a fatal flaw, but do we not already see a great deal of taxation and regulation in the service of capital? Can we design a system which reduces both but creates a different type of taxation and regulation?
The factory worker didn’t own the factory under Stalinism any more than he did under capitalism. Is it naive to argue for the best of both worlds? Or is it naive to argue for the perfection of the status quo?
Can someone tell me why this wouldn’t work?
Love and kisses,