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+1 vote
When I say usury I'm thinking of the 'trinity of usury' as Benjamin Tucker put it... interest, rent, and profit. If a bike shop sells bikes at a profit beyond cost to rich people or at least those with more disposable income, is that expropriation since usury is theft? What about renting a home you own to a rich person?

The problem I see is the problem of private property-- that ownership should be determined by usage, and by 'owning' without using, you're preventing its use by others who need it, especially concerning life-sustaining things like housing, and transportation.

To mix it up more, what if the bike shop sells bikes above cost to higher income people, in order to continue to offer free bikes/parts and bike lessons to those who don't have the funds?

Is it a compromise? Or is it a clever way to expropriate under their own noses with full legal backing... or is it not expropriation at all?
by (2.5k points)
I think this is one of the best questions I've seen on here on a long time, and I'm gonna have to think on it for a bit before responding. It invokes really important philosophical questions of consequentialism v. deontology. Good stuff.
I think this is one of the worst and poorly thought-out questions I've seen here in a long time, and I'm gonna respond right away. It invokes really important philosophical questions of authoritarianism and moralism. Shitty stuff.

How do you determine who a "rich person" is? How do you determine who has "disposable income" and more than who? You? Why do you get to be the arbiter of economic success? How much disposable income do you have? Is it too much to be considered an anarchist? What do you spend it on? Is is an object or hobby that makes you not an anarchist?

Playing an inverted capitalist game (gouging based on the seller's perception) is still a capitalist game. Seems like you're just trying to exact some economic revenge on people you deem "rich."

As with most truncated analyses of capitalism, it might help you feel more emotionally satisfied to have found some way of getting back as certain people, but it is nothing more than smug populism.
Well, when I think of rich people I think of folks who have accumulated a comparatively large store of wealth from the sweat of other people. It's not about getting back... if people need something, then why not take from those who have a stolen surplus?

Is it authoritarian to draw a line in the sand between those who have a lot (having stolen a lot), and those who don't have?
Lawrence, both consequentialism and deontology can be reconciled with a subjective personal ethos rather than universal morality and imposing moralism on the actions of others. We can have values and a personal ethic without them becoming spooks.

How does scamming the rich in the existing world to fund survival or struggle directly tie to authoritarianism? You didn't make the case at all, you just asserted it. You certainly could make the case, but it's not as simple as you're making it sound.

It is certainly at least a compromise, and I think the relevant examination of it is from a strategic standpoint. Do you apply the same standards to actions like armed robbery of banks that you're applying here? Is that "inverted capitalism"? How about workplace theft? In what ways do the actions categorically differ?

If the target corresponds to an anarchist analysis, the strategy is expropriative, and the tactic is an "inverted capitalist" ploy that does not change to a different category of target or strategy inconsistent with anarchism, does that justify the "inverted capitalist" maneuver? And if the trajectory especially is one of expanding the capacity for survival, networking, and mobilization of anti-authoritarian impact, I can see the basis of a consequentialist argument there that's at least worthy of discussion. I think this is an important grey area to explore, I don't think it's as black-and-white as Lawrence asserts.
"folks who have accumulated a comparatively large store of wealth from the sweat of other people."
What about folks who have accumulated a "comparatively" large store of wealth from their own sweat? What's "comparatively" large? How much is too much to be considered not rich?

"why not take from those who have a stolen surplus?"
Again, you're presuming that the defining characteristic of a rich person is their ability to or history of exploiting someone else. What about those people who have a hefty bank account or assets who saved up?

"Is it authoritarian to draw a line in the sand between those who have a lot (having stolen a lot), and those who don't have?"
It is authoritarian to decide how much ("a lot" - can you be any more vague?) a person should or shouldn't have. It is also moralistic to make that decision and act on it.
"How does scamming the rich in the existing world to fund survival or struggle directly tie to authoritarianism?"
How does anyone, anarchist or not, determine who "the rich" are? That's the location of my annoyance. Deciding that it's okay to scam someone because you have arbitrarily determined that person to be "rich" is using a moral justification for your action(s). My problem with both of you is that you have yet to assert, explain, or make the case that there might be some way of measuring a person's wealth that makes it enough for that person to be considered rich. A secondary issue might then be to determine if a given rich person is to be automatically excluded from the anarchist club merely because of said person's access to disposable or discretionary income.

Constant assertions of a person being "rich" mean nothing.
How about, since there is a lot of grey area, if you have over $5,000,000 of stolen (usury, wages) money, you're rich. Is it moralist to scam this rich person? I don't really understand how morals come into play unless you're actually seeking revenge (like 'fuck corporations, i'm gonna steal from walmart because they deserve it'). It's a needed resource and this person has more than enough (I don't know what's enough, but I know there is a point beyond enough), so you scam them out of it so you can afford shelter, or food, or transportation...
You have once again completely avoided the issue of a person who has amassed liquid assets through their own labor and saving. Your moralism is crystal clear when you say "stolen."

Do whatever you need to do to get by, and if you have some scheme to gouge someone you deem to be rich enough to deserve you using them as a resource, great. But please don't confuse a survival strategy within the logic and values of capitalism with a revolutionary tactic.
I left a person like that out safely in the grey area so we could just talk about the meat of the question... but I think you addressed it clearly in the last paragraph, which I think I'm in agreement with. 

I'm struggling with the idea that it's moralism to say the money was stolen. Can the word 'theft' ever be used without moralism? What do you call it when money is taken like that? You just don't use the idea of 'fairness' to judge it? How do you view it? It's not somehow 'wrong', just harmful?  I think this is a much bigger question that I've been wondering about your ideas.
No, the word "theft" can't be used without recourse to morality. Implicit is the notion of a proper and enforceable right to property, which, for anarchists, is tricky at best. What you're trying to do is determine if taking something from someone else is justifiable, and the notion of justice is also a moral problem.

Merely substituting "wrong" with "harmful" does little - or actually, nothing - to remove the issue from morality, since what is deemed harmful is always going to be considered wrong, or unjust, or unfair, or some other concept where judgment needs to be enforced.

What it comes down to for me is that morality cannot be a basis for radical tactics and strategies that are supposed to dismantle the contradictions and hierarchies that inhere in capitalism and the state. The reason most really radical anarchists and anti-statists are against activism is that activism is almost always based on morality. They believe that numbers matter, and that a majority is always right. No thanks.
lawrence, you have a full argument backing up your comments, but you're only sharing it very piece-meal. can you make the full argument here so that it's clear and coherent? or if there's an article that says it already, then certainly link to it.
i would love to hear the whole train of thought (preferably without the distracting snarkiness)...
just a hope.
lawrence, if we each dont decide who we think is "rich", "authoritarian", etc., then who should decide?
If you don't understand what I've written above, then ask me to clarify. I don't know how to answer your non-question. You've written a statement in the form of a question; your implicit response is that each of us gets to decide who's rich or authoritarian, which removes all attempts to make any kind of concrete characterization or definition. In your short statement you have abandoned precision for free-for-all self-indulgence. That is not compelling in the least.
i did ask you to clarify, and got no response at all.
again, you seem to be alluding to a train of thought, but are not being explicit about it.
i don't understand how "theft" is inherently a moral term. (or maybe i disagree?) i think that most people agree with you that morality is not a good/valid basis for dismantling capitalism and the state. so, the trajectory for you between those statements might be a place to start?
or maybe being constrained by the original question isn't helpful, and just starting with your assessment of how people could change how goods are distributed (if we were to start today with the world as it is), would be an easier way to start...?

also, calling people names because you don't like a question they ask is pretty much antithetical to the purpose of this site.
just sayin'.
First, didn't know that calling someone smug counts as name calling.

Second, I didn't respond to what you asked because I'm not inspired enough to write out my objections to moralism as an analytic tool. Nor am I all that interested in examining how to change the ways goods are distributed. I loathe economics.

Nevertheless, my objection to using the term "theft" to describe a particular economic set up is that it presumes that there's an alternative to wages that would be less onerous. I prefer to characterize a system of wage labor as exploitation rather than theft. It may seem to be merely semantic, since "exploitation" also presumes that there's a way that exchanging labor power for goods and services can be more fair - "exploitation" being a bad thing just like "theft." Perhaps it's just a distinction of scale or intention.

But the way the original question was formulated, the idea was to find some justification to steal back something from "the rich." My initial objection had less to do with theft (which is, after all, a legal category) than with the vague category of "the rich." It is populist demagoguery to use intentionally emotive and moralist terminology with superficial analytical content.
so the quesiton still remains, do you think its important to distinguish between people or bodies who are rich and who are not, authoritarian or not, etc. It seems to me there has to be a human element to anarchist praxis, - humans who impede our lives with different means (force, money, etc.) - the targets cant merely be abstractions or conglomerations.  Would you object to people robbing a bank?  If not, what is the important difference?  If you think it is important to make these distinctions between people, bodies, etc, how does one make sense of differentiating them? Personal interpretation? Systematically? Democratically?

1 Answer

+4 votes
Based on your own suggestion of an alternative to private property--that ownership be defined by usage--expropriation would be a form of direct action where you interact with available resources in such a way: If it is unused, you use it (expropriate it).

The thorny (and arguably moralistic or authoritarian) question of who are "the rich" wouldn't have to enter into the equation.

A key factor of expropriation--and a pretty key factor in direct action and anarchist activity generally--would have to be taking and not asking. If you run a project (well, business, really) that deals in relations of exchange with people as customers or tenants or recipients of loans, you are asking them for money. They can just go elsewhere for another price, so their unused resources won't be put to use unless they decide to (not unlike charity).

Also you are talking about a project that is an intermediary for redistribution: the resources are moved from point A (higher income people) to point B (those who don't have funds) through a mediating body (the bike shop). Expropriation would have to cut out the intermediary (e.g. people taking bikes for themselves or their friends/families/____).

So no. What you describe wouldn't be expropriation, it would be a kind of business negotiation.

For the record, a fair number of businesses and non-profits do run sliding-scale income-based services similar to what you are describing. I imagine they consider it a matter of fairness or redistribution or something similar. A logic that is distinct from expropriation.

On a different note, I don't really see how could someone loan money to, or rent to, someone who is much wealthier.
by (20.5k points)