Interview with Gary Chartier

11110198_10153282362357317_8057047700198929600_n(TFC) – Gary Chartier is Distinguished Professor of Law and Business Ethics and Associate Dean of the Zapara School of Business at La Sierra University in Riverside, California. He is the author, editor, or co-editor of ten books, including Public Practice, Private Law (Cambridge 2016), Anarchy and Legal Order (Cambridge 2013), The Conscience of an Anarchist (Cobden 2011), and Markets Not Capitalism (Minor Compositions-Autonomedia 2011) (co-edited with Charles W. Johnson). His byline has appeared over forty times in journals including the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Legal Theory, and Law and Philosophy. He is a member of the American Philosophical Association and the Alliance of the Libertarian Left and a senior fellow and trustee of the Center for a Stateless Society.

Chartier is a proud southern California native who wishes he had attended UC Sunnydale. He received a BA in history and political science from La Sierra (1987, magna cum laude); he went on to explore ethics, the philosophy of religion, theology, Christian origins, and political philosophy at the University of Cambridge, from which he earned a PhD (1991) with a dissertation on the idea of friendship. He graduated with a JD (2001, Order of the Coif) from UCLA, where he studied legal philosophy and public law and earned the Judge Jerry Pacht Memorial Award in Constitutional Law.

​In 2015, the University of Cambridge awarded him an earned LLD for his work in legal philosophy. ​

Visit him on-line at <>.


1. What was the impetus for your concern about the prevailing social order, and what has your political and philosophical journey been like, what ideological twists and turns have you made?
​I grew up in a home in which my parents cared a great deal about freedom and in which disregard for positional authority was treated as a pretty normal and reasonable stance. And I think I’ve always been bothered by bullies. My parents were, roughly, Goldwater Republicans; I started where they did but then went on to take their position to what seemed like its logical conclusion, embracing fairly hardcore libertarianism by the end of high school. By the time I was in graduate school, I had become, by contrast, a fairly conventional (if still fairly anti-authoritarian and anti-war) social democrat (in part because of concerns related to the problem of poverty). George Bush and Barack Obama radicalized me, driving me back toward libertarianism with their blatant corporatism and militarism. Discovering the work of Kevin Carson, Roderick Long, Sheldon Richman, Charles Johnson, Joe Stromberg, and others gave me a framework within which to situate both the anti-authoritarianism and enthusiasm for peaceful, voluntary cooperation and the creativity of spontaneous order that made me a natural fit for the libertarian movement and, at the same time, the opposition to exclusion, subordination, deprivation, militarism, and imperialism that had prompted my turn, for a time, to conventional modern liberalism.​


2. Would you define Capitalism, explain why you see markets as not specifically capitalistic, and what sort of alternatives you purpose to quell the current oppression capitalism creates?
​Markets are awesome! They mobilize and coordinate human creativity. The process of extended so​cial cooperation enriches our lives in countless ways, and we would be culturally, socially, interpersonally, materially much worse off without them. “Capitalism” is a different story. Obviously, people can use terms however they like, but it seems very common to use “capitalism” to mean something like “the free-market economic system that obtains right now.” The reality is, though, that the economic system we’ve got right now is one both preceded by past acts of systematic expropriation and sustained by ongoing (legal) privilege. The state claims a monopoly over the identification and enforcement of legal rights, and it all-too-frequently uses its monopoly to benefit established players at everyone else’s expense: think about the ways in which states corral information, and enrich the wealthy and well connected, via “intellectual property” protections, or disadvantage consumers and poor workers from around the globe by imposing immigration restrictions, or make and keep people poor through occupational licensing rules and land-use restrictions. The notion that what we have now is anything like a genuinely liberated, unfettered market, a system of voluntary, peaceful social cooperation, is ludicrous. So “capitalism,” understood as “the free-market economic system we have right now,” is really an anti-concept, an incoherent jumble. If you throw away the silly assumption that we’re currently enjoying freedom, and just use “capitalism” to means “what we have at present,” it’s clear that, as I say, we have a privilege-riddled system that works to the benefit of the political class and its economic cronies. Over the long-term, we need to eliminate state-secured legal privileges and the state apparatus itself, which mercilessly distributes and maintains such privileges. Over the short term, we can participate in activist campaigns to challenge these privileges; mutual aid efforts to assist those subordinated, excluded, and impoverished by the state’s system of legal privilege; educational efforts designed to highlight alternatives and delegitimate the state; and efforts to create and maintain alternate institutions that work around the state’s regulations and the destructive consequences of its privilege-enforcing activities.
3. How do we fight near term human extinction?
​Humans have acquired the capacity to destroy themselves and all life on their planet through nuclear and biological warfare. Opposing military intervention and other kinds of non-defensive military action and promoting global trade will tend to reduce the risks of war and open up possibilities for a brighter human future.​


4. How do we transition to a non oppressive structure and how long would this take in your estimation, best case scenario?
​Kevin Carson would be a much better interview subject for this question than I would be. I think a combination of consciousness-raising, activism, education, and the creation of alternate institutions (everything from Food-Nob-Bombs-style mutual aid activities to cryptocurrencies to seasteading ventures to community-based dispute-resolution structures) can all help to undermine the hold of the status quo on people’s bodies, wallets, and imaginations. I’m not in principle opposed to electoral politics, but I think electoral politics can often serve as a snare and a delusion, seducing people into playing the state’s games, rooting for the state’s teams, compromising with the state’s abuses, and accepting the state’s framing of issues and possibilities. Any kind of political action designed to capture the state apparatus–through electoral politics or revolutionary action–runs the risk of prolonging the state’s rule and turning anti-statist campaigners into the new bureaucrats and politicians. (This is especially so when people propose the strengthening of the state, even over the short-term, as a supposed means of undoing mischief the state has already caused.) The reality is that the state is profoundly inefficient. We have to hope that it will begin to collapse under its own weight even as we ​
have prepared to do nicely without it via the alternative institutions we have created. I really have no idea how long this is likely to take: human history has gone on for a long time, and the existing order has developed over the past six hundred years or so. It can and should be replaced, but it’s not going to disappear overnight.
5. How do we combat sectarianism?
​By building, and publicly acknowledging, friendships of all kinds with people across ideological divides. And by being very, very much aware of our own finitude, fallibility, and moral imperfection.​

 6.What does just workplace look like?

It looks like one that reflects the non-coerced consent of the participants. There’s no blueprint.

​One can say a little bit more here. (1) There’s the issue of background justice. When the systematic unjust use of force constrains people’s options, then one can call into question the justice of their situation, even though no one directly involved may bear any responsibility for the injustice. So a fully just workplace will be one in which there aren’t serious background injustices that affect what goes on in the workplace. Suppose, for instance, that legal rules prevent people from working in certain locations or sectors (as in apartheid-era South Africa). Disfavored workers will be paid less than they would absent this background injustice–even if they are employed in the affected regions or sectors, they will be paid less​ because they will have less bargaining leverage and because employers risk fines for employing them. Similarly, when legal rules prevent people without government papers from working in particular settings, employers can threaten them with deportation if they organize, ask for higher wages, etc. (2) Then there’s the issue of fair treatment given the background conditions. People aren’t responsible for conditions they didn’t create and didn’t control. But they are responsible for how they navigate those conditions. There aren’t general rules, really, but obviously the Golden Rule, the Principle of Fairness–don’t distinguish arbitrarily among those affected by your actions–will apply. In general, I think this will mean, for multiple, overlapping reasons, decentralizing and devolving as much responsibility as possible, operating transparently, etc.
​An ideal work environment, I think, is not the same as a just one. An ideal work environment would be one featuring small job shops run as partnerships, rather than large, bureaucratic organizations with multiple divisions.​


7. What is your definition of labor theory of value?

​People mean different things ​by “value.” Objectively, some  things are worthwhile in and of themselves–life, knowledge, friendship, play, aesthetic experience, practical reasonableness, sensory pleasure, peace of mind, self-integration, religion–and some things are worthwhile only as means to or signals of things that are valuable–money, for instance, or emotional satisfaction. But the fact that certain things are objectively valuable doesn’t tell us how to rank them in particular cases–how much it might be sensible to exchange for them monetarily, etc. This will be a function of our subjective preferences and our various commitments. These commitments give us a basis for measuring the significance of various options and deciding how much to pay for them.

​How much we are willing to pay for things is “value” in another sense.

​ Price formation obviously reflects this kind of valuation. The valuation that leads to price formation is subjective, that is, it’s a function, again, of our preferences and commitments.
A labor theory of value is often thought to be a theory in accordance with a particular subset of the inputs leading to the creation of a particular good or service is understood as constituting or generating its value. But in what sense is this the case? Objective value isn’t a function of inputs, per se (there are some exceptions, having to do with the role of certain things in constituting our identities): a painting that is cheap to make can yield the same æsthetic experience as one that is expensive to make. And subjective value isn’t normally a function of inputs, either: the nature of my preference a given good or service is, again, a function of my subjective set, and the contents of that subjective set​ needn’t have much of anything to do with the inputs leading to the availability of the good or service.


8. What level of control should workers have?

​Again, the issues of background justice and local fairness​ are both relevant. When background justice is observed, workers will have more options, which means that, when they value control, they will be more readily able to achieve it, either by starting the kinds of job shops I mentioned earlier or by negotiating for it with employers. When background justice is lacking, workers will, all other things being equal, have fewer options and be less able to pursue either of these possibilities. As regards local fairness, employers have good reasons to empower workers as much as possible: this respects the workers’ dignity, increases the odds of better treatment of customers, and improves firm productivity (because of both informational and incentival problems that plague hierarchies).


9. Does hierarchy need to exist in a workplace in order for a workplace to function properly?

​A small job shop can function as a partnership, with responsibilities parceled out among the partners. There’s no particular need for a hierarchy here (though of course some partnerships do have hierarchical elements, formal or informal, as in a law firm when one partner is a far more effective rainmaker than all the others). In a larger firm, hierarchy within limits (note, again, my point about the economic value of devolving responsibility)​

​may be unavoidable as regards decision-making, though in a worker-owned or worker-controlled firm this would be compatible with arrangements such that those at the top of the hierarchy were elected by and generally accountable to those whose work they oversaw.​


10. What are your thoughts on establishment unions vs. radical movement based unions vs. unions in theory?

​In a firm in which there’s a separation between workers and owners, unions will be valuable. Establishment unions can be inefficient; they can be corrupt; they can be management stooges; and they can fail to respond  flexibly to worker needs. More grassroots unions seem more likely to be helpful to workers. In firms organized as worker partnerships, it seems as if unions would be superfluous.​


11. What should the role of the initial investor be in relation to the role of wage workers?

​Boring answer: whatever investors and workers sort out via non-coerced agreement.​


12. Should production be tied to profits directly, such as in a percentage form or distributed by the investor’s/owner’s discretion?


​In accordance with non-coerced agreement. Whether in partnerships or in firms in which profits go to investors, plans for distributing profits will vary with circumstances. No general rule, except: reward and incentivize workers, reward and incentivize investors.​


13. Should workers be remunerated via effort, need, production, or other means?

​(a) In accordance with non-coerced agreement. (b) In light of marginal productivity.​


14. Any advice for activists dealing with burn out?

​Set realistic goals. Embrace activist projects that truly engage your passions. Recognize your finitude. ​Don’t let any project dominate your life. Nurture your friendships and family relationships. Remember that the well being of the universe doesn’t depend on you and isn’t your responsibility. Know when to let go. Connect with communities and networks able to support your efforts.


15. Any final shout outs you’d like to make?


​Peace is beautiful. Extended social cooperation is beautiful. Human creativity is beautiful. Anarchy is amazing because it frees up people to use their creativity and to engage in extended social cooperation. Despite the abuses of states and military forces and cronyish, corrupt corporations, humans are exhibiting the ongoing capacity to create heretofore unimagined ​goods and services that continue to enhance our lives. Even though there’s so much going wrong, so much is getting better. Anarchy will make it possible for things to get better still.