Comment on “A Critique of Kirzner’s Finders-Keepers Defense of Profit”

Theodore Burczak criticizes Israel M. Kirzner, in “A Critique of Kirzner’s Finders-Keepers Defense of Profit,” using Ellerman and some other angles, and Kirzner responds:

“I believe, however, that there is a logical non-sequitur in Burczak’s application of this reasoning to claim a contradiction between (a) my position that the laborer, in choosing which job to accept, is acting as (an “ultimately responsible”) entrepreneur, and (b) my (implicit) acceptance of the legitimacy of the wage-for-labor-time exchange. Let me use Burczak’s own example of the role of a gun in a bank robbery. The gun is“ an inanimate object without a will, [it] cannot share responsibility for the crime with the robber.” But surely one who owns a gun and knowingly rents it out to a known would-be  bank robber does bear juridical and moral responsibility for his action; his renting out the gun, permitting the would-be robber to choose which bank to rob with it, does not imply that he (the owner of the gun) has become a “thing.” Similarly, my observation that, in choosing an employer to whom to rent out his labor time, a laborer is acting entrepreneurially, does not, in itself, contradict the“ thingification” which Burczak (following Ellerman) finds in the circumstance that the laborer’s time now, once he has taken the job,“ belongs” to the employer.”


Strictly speaking the above is sufficient, I believe, to rebut the logical content of Burczak’s critique of my position (as being contradictory).” emphasis his

Kirzner: “(a) my position that the laborer, in choosing which job to accept, is acting as (an “ultimately responsible”) entrepreneur”

My two cent critique:

  1. If given a “choice”? Where would most people rather work: 1) with/for someone that was going to get a cut/profit, or essentially steal marginal product, or 2) someone that would pay full product?
  2. “Choice” is not stable ground. Someone may choose the lesser of two evils and still end up choosing an evil, like it or not. “evil” here being a place that takes advantage of them whether it be low pay and/or work environment.
  3. If the “market” predominately consists of capitalist trying to alienate labor from profits, in other words theft, entrepreneurial or other, then is there a “choice” to go with a socialist that pays full product?
  4. Is a “responsible” entrepreneur: A) one that makes their own work, B) one that rents themselves out, C) one that does the renting of people, D) one that rents things (not people), or E) one that sits at the table and has a say in deciding who gets what and how much, and why…and sinks when the ship sinks, floats when it floats?
  5. If a gun owner rented their gun out, and were NOT paid with bank robbery money, how could they be guilty “in” the crime?
  6. Guilt by association, and proximity to the said crime are interesting questions to consider, but I think Kirzner is missing the forest for the trees, in that “alienation” is the forest.
  7. Assuming the robber with the rented gun was also wearing clothes, can we charge the people that sold him the clothes, or rented him a tuxedo, for the act of bank robbery?
  8. Where we draw the line between selling, renting, borrowing, and criminal activity is that the “activity,” it is the “human action,” it is the crime. Is the act of renting the act of bank robbery?
  9. Is knowledge that someone will use the gun to kill themselves murder?
  10. If the gun was stolen and the robber left a note saying they would rob a bank with it, and return it with payment, then what?

Kirzner: “(b) my (implicit) acceptance of the legitimacy of the wage-for-labor-time exchange.”

another two cents:

  1. And?
  2. Most theses have an antithesis? The synthesis here is…?
  3. There isn’t necessarily a problem with the “wage-for-time-exchange,” but there is something wrong with exchanging/forfieting (sometimes unknowingly) full product or having it stolen by someone that wishes to cash in on the labor of others treating them as things that have no control or say on how that product is divided. Can it even be dived? Would there be excess to divide if profits are near zero, and the price near cost?
  4. The “wage-for-time-exchange” is illegitimate if it is a “wage-for-time-and-justice-suspension-exchange,” not to mention when prices start to exceed costs…somewhere in this mix injustice enters.
  5. Whichever direction is chosen, capitalism or socialism, alienation breeds alienation, or the opposite inalienation breeds inalienation, I have a hard time imagining they ever mix in conjunction at the same time to assist each other at in the same firm.

Back to the rental of things, guns in Kirzner’s example above. The person who rented the gun has not become a thing, they are still responsible for the crime, or a guilty party. If this was an employment situation where the gun user/renter got paid to target practice (hypothetically to get better and increase their legal kill rate of deer) then there is no crime on the part of the person renting the gun for a non-criminal act. Question is, is someone (a third party), hiring or renting the the gun and gun user (assuming it’s not the user themselves that decided the time exchange was worth it)? If so, does the user have a say in how they use that gun, and what cut they will get of the product? If they do have a say, they are not a thing, no “thingification” occurs. If they don’t, they are alienated because they are treated as a thing, with no voice, and no control on how to split the spoils. They don’t have say in how they will bear the positive or negative fruits for their actions, they are separated from control here, as if they are a thing with no voice or power to get what they want, and/or deserve as time exchange…or justice exchange. They become a thing, and justice is alienated during the time they (illegitimately) exchanged being a person to become a thing. This switch from person to thing is illegitimate (or illegal), and it is the during that change/exchange that another illegitimate/illegal act occurs– that of appropriating marginal product or creating profits instead of paying full product or lowering prices to reflect real changes in value…as difficult and subjective as this can be, one thing is certain, that at it’s core those creating product or time, should not (or really cannot, without theft) be alienated from them.

Ellerman does speak to the legality of renting capital, or things, assuming of course that the alienation above does not occur. So not only should the renting of humans be illegal, but perhaps the renting of capital to humans that will in turn use it to exploit other humans in the time exchanged from persons to things,  which should be illegal.


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  1. Pingback: A Future (and past) of “Alternative” Work Arrangements – RE:ⒶL LIBERTARIAN

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