Mutually Assured Competition
Right, I might as well start talking about some of my new links.
Kevin Carson - mutualist, Prodhounist (it seems) certainly and market individualist. Excellent. Now, I think that a lot of the spirit and values he seems to embody seem interesting, and I think that it's worth pointing out that Marx hated Prodhoun so much partly because they were fishing in the same teritory - i.e. that their values weren't that far apart, but their plans were.
In Contract Feudalism Carson sets out a mutualist position:
Contrast this monstrous state of affairs with what would exist in a genuine free market: jobs competing for workers instead of the other way around.One might even ask why they would bother - and possibly they wouldn't, and so this should lead to Co-operatives.
Instead of workers living in fear that bosses might discover something "bad" about them (like the fact that they have publicly spoken their minds in the past, like free men and women), bosses would live in fear that workers would think badly enough of them to take their labor elsewhere. Instead of workers being so desperate to hold onto a job as to allow their private lives to be regulated as an extension of work, management would be so desperate to hold onto workers as to change conditions on the job to suit them. Instead of workers taking more and more indignities to avoid bankruptcy and homelessness, bosses would give up more and more control over the workplace to retain a workforce.
But, problem. Uncle Charlie Marx established a little principle - that price and value don't necessarilly coincide. Where conditions are correct, value can be transfered from one hand to another at a price below it. We can see this in an industry where one firm may have better access to transport, to natural resources, etc. which can produce goods below the market price but still sell at or just below the going market price of their good, to make an excess profit.
Obviously, unless these advantages can be monopolised, other firms would note the excess profits, and invest in the advantaged firm (or in their own to increasse their efficiency and thus draw level again). The same is true across branches of industry.
The net effect is that less labour intensive industries will tend to suck up value from more labour intensive industries. Typically, farming (hugely labour intensive) transfers a great deal of value to high-tech industry. Profit rates are equalised across the economy.
This would still happen under mutualism, more productive/efficient co-ops would soak up value, would have transfers from competitors, who would then be faced with having to decide whether to let people go (voluntarilly, of course) in order to compete.
What this means, is that you can have a capitalism without capitalists. You can have all the profit seeking behaviours, without the personal gains for any real sensuous human being. Paul Mattick concieved the central dialectical contradiction of capitalism as between use and exchange value. Put another way, between investment and consumnption. Capitalism exists to create more exchange value and more capital. If we remove the share going to the luxury life-styles of the capitalists, we could still find ourselves being squeezed to the bone as we deliver up the value to King Capital itself, like some dark Aztec god.
So, mutualism is not an alternative to capitalism, it is capitalism without the capitalists. That may be an improvement, but I wouldn't prefer it over socialism.