Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful, or alternatively as opposing authority and hierarchical organization in the conduct of human relations. The nature of capitalism is a polarizing issue among anarchists. Capitalism is generally considered by scholars to be an economic system that includes private ownership of the means of production, creation of goods or services for profit or income, the accumulation of capital, competitive markets, voluntary exchange, and wage labor. Capitalism is variously defined by sources and there is no general consensus among scholars on the definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category. The designation is applied to a variety of historical cases, varying in time, geography, politics, and culture.
Most anarchist commentators do not consider anarcho-capitalism as a legitimate form of anarchism due to perceived coercive characteristics of capitalism. In particular, they argue that certain capitalist transactions are not voluntary, and that maintaining the class structure of a capitalist society requires coercion in violation of anarchist principles. Anarcho-capitalists argue that capitalism is the absence of coercion and therefore fully compatible with the philosophy of anarchism. Furthermore, they claim that an effort to put a stop to what they consider voluntary hierarchy is inconsistent with the philosophical tradition of freedom present in anarchist thought.
There is some debate about the question of private property and economic organization. Social anarchists claim that the existence of property results in wage slavery, while certain anti-capitalist individualist anarchists and mutualists argue for private property and wages owned and controlled directly by workers themselves in the form of labor-owned cooperative firms and associations. For Proudhon, "strong workers' associations…would enable the workers to determine jointly by election how the enterprise was to be directed and operated on a day-to-day basis."
Traditional individualist anarchists, such as Benjamin Tucker, (who identified his American individualist anarchism as "Anarchistic Socialism") are opposed to both capitalism and anarchist-communism. They support wage labor as long as the employers and employees are paid equally for equal hours worked and neither party has authority over the other (this approach was put into practice in American individualist anarchist colonies such as Utopia, which was organized by Josiah Warren). By following this principle, no individual profits from the labor of another. Benjamin Tucker described the wages received in such an employer-employee relationship as the individual laborer's "full product." He envisioned that in such a society, every worker would be self-employed and own their own private means of production, free to walk away from employment contracts. Tucker called communist-anarchism "pseudo-anarchism," because it opposes wages and private property, fearing that collectivization would subdue individuals to group mentality and rob workers of the full product of their labor .
The Preamble to the Constitution of the Syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World labor union states unequivocally:
Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system."
Many anarcho-capitalists believe that inequality is not a major concern so long as everyone has "equality of opportunity". Anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard argued "the 'rightist' libertarian is not opposed to inequality." They believe that because of a person's self-ownership, that any freedom given up in a laissez-faire marketplace would be a voluntary contract (consent) and believe there is nothing authoritarian about capitalist employer-employee relationships in such a condition, "[t]here is nothing authoritarian, dictatorial or exploitative in the relationship. Employees order employers to pay them amounts specified in the hiring contract just as much as employers order employees to abide by the terms of the contract.".
Murray Rothbard defines equality as, "A and B are 'equal' if they are identical to each other with respect to a given attribute…There is one and only one way, then, in which any two people can really be 'equal' in the fullest sense: they must be identical in all their attributes." and argues, "men are not uniform,…the species, mankind, is uniquely characterised by a high degree of variety, diversity, differentiation: in short, inequality." This runs counter the concept of equality amongst most social and mutualist anarchists. Most anarchists would argue that freedom without equality simply gives more freedom to those who are supposedly "superior" and that equality without freedom is a form of oppression. Social anarchist Alexander Berkman argued,
"equality does not mean an equal amount but equal opportunity…Do not make the mistake of identifying equality in liberty with the forced equality of the convict camp. True anarchist equality implies freedom, not quantity. It does not mean that every one must eat, drink, or wear the same things, do the same work, or live in the same manner. Far from it: the very reverse, in fact. Individual needs and tastes differ, as appetites differ. It is equal opportunity to satisfy them that constitutes true equality. Far from levelling, such equality opens the door for the greatest possible variety of activity and development. For human character is diverse, and only the repression of this free diversity results in levelling, in uniformity and sameness. Free opportunity and acting out your individuality means development of natural dissimilarities and variations…Life in freedom, in anarchy will do more than liberate man merely from his present political and economic bondage. That will be only the first step, the preliminary to a truly human existence."
Some anarcho-capitalists, who consider themselves part of the individualist anarchist tradition, draw upon the writings of early individualist anarchists such as Benjamin Tucker and Lysander Spooner who argued that unequal wealth would not equal an unequal society. However, said anarchists believed that equality of condition, equality of access to the means of production, and equal opportunity would counteract any potential tyranny in a market society. "Spooner and Godwin insist that inequality corrupts freedom. Their anarchism is directed as much against inequality as against tyranny" and "[w]hile sympathetic to Spooner's individualist anarchism, they [Rothbard and David Friedman] fail to notice or conveniently overlook its egalitarian implications." Tucker himself argued for a society with "the greatest amount of liberty compatible with equality of liberty."
Some anarchists object to the portrayal of economics as a "value-free science".
"[A]ll the so-called laws and theories of political economy are in reality no more than statements of the following nature:" "'Granting that there are always in a country a considerable number of people who cannot subsist a month, or even a fortnight, without accepting the conditions of work imposed upon them by the State, or offered to them by those whom the State recognizes as owners of land, factories, railways, etc., then the results will be so and so.' "So far middle-class political economy has been only an enumeration of what happens under the just-mentioned conditions – without distinctly stating the conditions themselves. And then, having described the facts which arise in our society under these conditions, they represent to us these facts as rigid, inevitable economic laws." – Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 179
It has also been pointed out that historically, the anarchist-communist economic theories published by Kropotkin and others have been ignored or intentionally sidelined by historians.
Within the realm of anarchist labor issues is the issue of the monetary system. While all anarchists are against the current monetary system, there is disagreement as to whether or not there should be a monetary system. Alexander Berkman was an anarchist against the monetary system. In his book What is Anarchism?, Berkman argues that in an anarchist society, money would become unnecessary. Within anarchy, all occupations are viewed as equally beneficial to society. Since the concept of value is different for everyone and cannot be determined, it is argued that it should not be set and one's contribution to society through their occupation entitled them to be a part of it. Within this system, there is a free distribution of goods, without the need for money. Money in its current form is a hierarchical system, the exception being when all people are paid equal salaries. The argument goes further, however, to question the purpose of money if people are paid equally. Certainly those who agree with this would also note that a monetary system would open a vulnerability for some to acquire more of it and create a class system.
Not all anarchists oppose the idea of money. Individualist and mutualist anarchists see currency as a tangible form of workers receiving the "full product of their labor". They support mutual banking (some individualists support no banking at all to keep exchange rates constant) and local currency as opposed to national currency. Others see money as simply an index for exchanging goods and that its existence wouldn't necessarily create a class system.