Economic Means Versus Political Means

"Political means" of gaining wealth are often contrasted with "economic means": political means involve aggression, while economic means are voluntary.

But "voluntary" exchange assumes property rights, which must either be politically established or established by pure force. Note: "politically established" does not necessarily mean "deliberately legislated." It means "established by considerations of justice in the community in question." There is no obvious "matter of fact" about, for instance, just what entitles one to call a piece of land "one's own." Private property in land is a late development in human social life; hunter-gatherers did not have such a concept.

Therefore, economic means are derivative of political means.


  1. Anonymous10:58 PM

    No, neither is derivative of the other. All are merely social institutions, and while there are parallels between them, one cannot say with certainty that one is derivative of the other. The concept of property is found in *all* beings who have control over their material selves, as well as what they can control in the material world around them. Even animals display this. However, what is distinctly different between other beings and human beings is that we have evolved the ability to reason, and thus have found that a system of private property is most beneficial. This doesn't require any preconditions and is more than likely highly responsible for our survival.

    1. Joe, I like private property: it is a good institution. But how we decide who owns what is a political decision.

    2. Anonymous5:04 PM

      I hate to nitpick, but define "political". And if you can differentiate this from other social institutions. Sorry, but things can get slippery in this territory.

    3. That is set out in the post.

  2. I don't know how libertarians may be abusing the concept of political means vs. economic means, but the locus classicus for the distinction is Franz Oppenheimer's The State, and Oppenheimer is something like a Georgist: he's not in favor "call[ing] a piece of land 'one's own.'" or "Private property in land." It's the improvement on the land brought about by labor that is "economic" in his system. There are no rights in property. Then raiders come along, enslave the peaceful agricultural people, and in that conquest and enslavement you have the roots of Oppenheimer's idea of the State -- the "political means" has come into being.

    Moreover, Oppenheimer was very class-conscious and -- it's been awhile since I read the book -- would probably affirm that private-property rights are a byproduct of the rise of the "political means" and help institutionalize rent-slavery.

    Albert Jay Nock, also a Georgist, get the terms of Oppenheimer, and latter-day libertarians get them from Nock and Oppenheimer alike. But latter-day libertarians tend to discard the Georgist class analysis that is the very core of the distinction between economic and political means.

  3. Hello Gene, must this necessarily be the case? If you had a private law/insurance agency whose member committed a heinous crime against someone else's property couldn't punishment not be of the kind where positive harm or internment is imposed upon the perpretator but simply negative whereby they are no longer covered by the protections of that covenant? This would present great dangers for perpretators as once they become outlaws nobody would be liable for any harm done to them. This of course could be an ultimate punishment, and not necessarily resorted to, and further an emphasis could be restored via private law to actually getting criminals to compensate victims as opposed to putting them in jails. A lady from Guatemala gave a very interesting on how this is practiced in the tribal areas of her country. Would be curious to get your thoughts on this approach to anarchy/anarchocapitalism.

    1. OK, Abhi, but there is a curious claim going on here: We anarchists don't need to resort to coercive punishments, because we can punish people in an even worse fashion!


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