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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

P2P: New Economic Paradigm?

I found a great article that amplifies on many of the same economic themes Dave Pollard does at How to Save the World (especially here): Michel Bauwens. "Peer to Peer and Human Evolution." Here's a snippet from the Executive Summary that should give some indication of how good it is:

After describing the emergence of P2P as the dominant mode, or 'form', of our current technological infrastructure (section two), we then describe its emergence in the economic sphere (section three), as a 'third mode of production', neither profit-driven nor centrally planned, but as a decentralized cooperative way of producing software (free software and open source movements), and other immaterial products, based on the free cooperation of 'equipotential' participants....

Such commons-based peer production has other important innovations, such as it taking place without the intervention of any manufacturer whatsoever. In fact the growing importance of 'user innovation communities' (section 3.1.B), which are starting to surpass the role of corporate sponsored marketing and research divisions in their innovation capacities, show that this formula is poised for expansion even in the world of material production, provided the design phase is separated from the production phase.

A lot of this also ties in to various strands of thought I tried to bring together in this old post: "On the Superior Efficiency of Small-Scale Organization."

I'm not sure I agree with Bauwens' contention that peer-to-peer networks will become the dominant form of economic organization. But to the extent that it's possible to disaggregate the separate stages of production within existing vertically integrated corporations, a good many of those stages (for example, as Bauwens says, the design stage) will be amenable to handling by decentralized peer networks and the gift economy.

And the various production stages themselves, when disaggregated in the same way, show a great potential for cooperative ownership and control, and for the use of a wide range of less capital-intensive forms of production. In a decentralized economy, individual stages of production that are currently carried on at a single large site by a vertically integrated corporation may be more economically done in small machine shops (cf. Jane Jacobs' account of the origins of the Japanese bicycle industry, in The Economy of Cities), or in Kirkpatrick Sale's neighborhood repair-recycling centers. In some stages of production, the substitution of lower-tech, partially human powered operations (cf Mumford's discussion of "polytechnic" in The Pentagon of Power) or Sale's and Bookchin's general-purpose production technologies, will be economical when savings on bureaucratic and distribution costs, and overhead, are taken into account.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Monopoly, and the Legacy Benefits of State Intervention

Chris Wages, at My Quiet Life, quotes a statement I made in an earlier blog post:

The faux “free market” rhetoric of the ASI and other neoliberals will be nothing but bullshit until they first deal with initial questions of justice in the starting distribution of property titles. Otherwise, their version of the “free market” really just means a massive looting spree, followed by the proclamation “No coercive intervention in the market starting… NOW!”

He then ties this generalization in with his friendly critique of an article by Cato's Adam Thierer (quite good, on the whole) on the government role in creating the AT&T monopoly. As it applies to telecommunications, he says, my comment above can be restated as:

That is .. “NOW”, only after the government (read: the taxpayer) has funded and subsidized the industry to the point of total domination and competition-free self-sufficiency. “NOW” we can pretend to be in favor of the “free” market. This is the fallacy of the Cato Institute’s repeated professions of support for “free” market. The “free” market they are campaigning for is one in which the balance of power is tilted in favor of large oligarchies of corporations by decades of government funding and subsidization that continues to this day.

In the comment thread, t rev responded:

Look, of course the status quo isn’t fair, of course it’s the historical outcome of a series of what are quite arguably monstrous criminal activities. But, so what? Things are as they are. It’s not enough to say that crimes were committed unless you have a plan of action to rectify the situation that isn’t going to make things even worse. We just want to keep similar things from happening in the future.

And finally, my rejoinder to t rev:

Unfortunately, t. rev, the typical vulgar libertarian response to “things as they are now” is to adopt some policy that will lock the present winners into control of their ill-gotten gain. Adopting a formally libertarian policy, without regard to how it will affect the strategic distribution of power in the existing state capitalist system, is a lot like the Romans at Cannae welcoming the withdrawal of the Punic center as “a step in the right direction.” Any just free market regime must take into account the present distribution of power, the desired end state, and how its steps toward that desired end state will strengthen or weaken the present distribution of power in the meantime. In other words, something like Chris Sciabarra’s “dialectical libertarianism.”

Now, whether (as Chris Wages says) the legacy benefits of past federal action are enough to lock telecom monopolies into a permanently privileged status, or whether the ostensibly "deregulated" industry still depends on an ongoing framework of hidden subsidies and privileges. I lean toward the latter alternative, although you can take the counter-factual speculation for what it's worth. My gut feeling is that most centralized corporate dinosaurs would simply collapse if subjected to a genuinely deregulated free market, without any taxpayer subsidies of any kind. Leaving that aside, though, I have some definite ideas on t rev's question of what to do now. One of them is treating corporations, the majority of whose profits depended on state intervention, as the property of their work force or clientele: transforming them into either producer or consumer cooperatives, preferably decentralized to the smallest feasible units of local control, and then coordinating their relations through some combination of unregulated markets and bottom-up federation.

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Monday, November 28, 2005

New Greene Mutual Banking Text Online

At Libertarian Labyrinth, Shawn Wilbur now has the full text of William Greene's Equality (1849) up online. On behalf of money cranks everywhere, I thank you, Shawn. Equality was largely the basis for the first, 1850 edition of Mutual Banking.

According to Shawn, more online works in the Greene mutual banking corpus are forthcoming:

I'm about half way through the final proofing and XHTMLizing of the 1850 Mutual Banking, and might have that online tomorrow. The 1857 and 1870 works will follow shortly after.

In the meantime, here's an online text of the 1870 edition provided by Saren Calvert at The Portal.

Making Ourselves Ungovernable, Part II: Governing Ourselves

Not long ago, I posted a link to a great article on decentralized network activism, along with a link to a Rand document indicating how panicked "our" leaders are by the governance problems presented by networked resistance.

But decentralized networks of affinity groups are not only good for bringing down existing centralized hierarchies; they're also good for replacing them as tools for self-governance. Over thirty years ago, Ivan Illich wrote about the potential of decentralized learning networks for replacing the state's top-down schooling machinery. And he envisioned these networks at a time when the only technologies he had to work with were community-owned computer mainframes, telephone trees, and tape-recorded lectures. Karl Hess, in roughly the same period, coauthored the outstanding Neighborhood Power with David Morris. So imagine how the cyber-revolution of the subsequent three decades boosts the potential for such self-managed networks.

Via Dave Pollard, an excellent article by Beth Simone Noveck of the Democracy Design Workshop: "A Democracy of Groups"

With networks and new computer–based tools now ordinary people can become a group even without the benefit of a corporation or organization. They can make decisions, own and sell assets, accomplish tasks by exploiting the technology available. They no longer need to rely on a politician to make decisions. They can exercise meaningful power themselves about national, state and local — indeed global — issues...

This technology is enabling people to engage in complex, socially contextualized activities in ways not possible before. While it used to be that geography determined the boundaries of a group and the possibilities for collective action — I had to be near you to join you — now technology is revolutionizing our capacity for purposive collective action with geographically remote actors.

In light of this, Noveck wants to

structure the law to defer political and legal decision–making downward to decentralized group–based decision–making.

Now, as an individualist anarchist, I view the ultimate goal of this process as decentralizing decision-making power downward to the smallest possible unit: the individual.

Unlike many free market anarchists, I don't consider "democracy" a dirty word. Majority rule is only an accidental feature of democracy. If you look at the thought of Jefferson and other anglo-republicans (or oppositionists, or "eighteenth century commonwealthmen," or whatever) of his day, the central principle of democracy was consent. Government by majority rule was a second-best, a way of approximating as closely as possible to the universal, several consent of individuals when the latter was impossible. And representative democracy was a far-distant third, making meaningful self-government almost impossible (something that for the Hamiltonians was a feature, not a bug). But the principle the radical democrats pursued, as closely as they thought practicable, was always government by the consent of the governed. And there have always been, as Voltairine De Cleyre called them, "unterrified Jeffersonians," willing to push the principle of consent to its logical conclusion. Even in the time of Jefferson and Paine, William Godwin denied the need for any agency with a presumed right to initiate force on behalf of the "general welfare."

All decision-making groups, ultimately, should be voluntary associations govered on the principle of unanimous consent.

The last step, of course, will be to fund all public services on the cost principle, with fees from voluntary associates. When membership and payment become voluntary, the last step will be taken toward what Proudhon called the dissolution of the state in the social body. This last will probably be impossible until we've removed the state-backed monopoly privileges of landlords and usurers, and all the sundry subsidies and protections enjoyed by our present feudal lords the corporations, and allowed the free market some time to iron out the present maldistribution of wealth. Only when the state's barriers to occupancy of vacant land, and the state's barriers to worker self-organization of credit through mutual banks, have been removed, and labor receives its full product, will the producing classes finally have the resources to pay for all the services they consume at cost and contribute to mutual aid associations for the benefit of those unable to work.

In the meantime, the smaller the group, the closer we approach to this ideal. And direct democracy, with neighborhoods, schools, utilities, etc., run by boards of selectmen directly responsible to their clientele, is a huge step toward the ideal of democracy as unanimous consent.

Addendum. Via Ecodema. An excellent article on the devolution of government policy-making to local and neighborhood assemblies in Venezuela.

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Dave Pollard on Corporate Culture

....most jobs in large organizations are jobs:

* selling crap
* making crap
* fixing crap
* blocking customers who complain about crap from getting their money back or getting through to management
* finding people and outsourcers who will do the above crap jobs cheaper
* lobbying politicians to prevent people who are creative from competing with them, and to prevent people from suing them for their crap.

And, I might add, it's only because the organizations function in cartelized industries, each industry dominated by a handful of firms with the same pathological organizational culture, that they are able to survive without any serious competitive disability.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Corporate Liberalism at Microsoft

Via email from Joel Schlosberg. A socially responsible proposal from the selfless foks at Microsoft:

At Microsoft, we know that advances in technology bring enormous social and economic benefits - but only if people believe they can trust that technology. For example, recent surveys suggest that privacy concerns have caused some consumers to retreat from using the Internet for e-commerce.

We have been working to strengthen computer security on many fronts and to provide greater privacy protection through innovations such as our advanced spam filters, the Windows AntiSpyware tool, and our Phishing Filter. We have also been collaborating with government to bring anti-spam and anti-spyware enforcement lawsuits, and working with industry to develop privacy standards, strengthen self-regulation, and educate consumers.

As part of this comprehensive approach, we believe the United States now needs a broad, nationwide privacy law. Microsoft's general counsel Brad Smith recently asked Congress to consider privacy legislation that would set a uniform standard for the collection, storage and use of personal information. He urged lawmakers to mandate greater transparency in the handling of personal data, give consumers more meaningful control over it, and require organizations to take steps to secure and protect it.

Congress has enacted privacy laws for specific industries, such as financial services and healthcare, and has included privacy provisions in laws on spam, telemarketing, and other issues. Since 2004, more than 20 states have passed financial privacy laws. Although such targeted laws are helpful in some cases, they create an increasingly complex patchwork of inconsistent rules that raise the costs of compliance, and they leave many gaps in privacy protection.

A strong federal law - developed in consultation with the states and with industry - would help assure consumers that legitimate organizations in every state and every industry are abiding by the same baseline privacy standard. This standard should apply to data collection electronically or on paper, because the risks to consumers are the same, regardless. To encourage interstate and global commerce, federal legislation should preempt state laws and harmonize as much as possible with the laws of other countries.

Here's what Joel had to say about it:

Now, why would the archetypal mega-corporation call for more and larger-scale corporate regulation?....
Hmmmm, well it so happens that this is at a time that Microsoft is facing increasing competition on key products due to its poor track record on security -- eg with the "new browser wars" where alternative browsers like Firefox (which recently passed 100 million downloads) and Opera are taking away market share from Microsoft's Internet Explorer, the first time this has happened since the original "browser wars" in the late 1990s, due to IE's poor security. Clearly, establishing a baseline of security adequate enough to reassure jittery consumers would decrease demand for competing products that perform above that baseline (and would make a higher standard the de facto baseline via competition). Also, it wouldn't hurt to move the costs of providing security onto the government.

And here's what I wrote about regulatory cartelization in Chapter Six of Studies in Mutualist Political Economy:

Any action by the state to impose a uniform standard of quality..., across the board, necessarily eliminates [it] as a competitive issue between firms. Thus, the industry is partially cartelized, to the very same extent that would have happened had all the firms in it adopted a uniform level of quality standards, and agreed to stop competing in that area. A regulation, in essence, is a state-enforced cartel in which the members agree to cease competing in a particular area of quality or safety, and instead agree on a uniform standard. And unlike non-state-enforced cartels, which are unstable, no member can seek an advantage by defecting.

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Mutualist Journal Club

Here's some more information about the Mutualist Journal Club blog, which Adam R. just set up:

The Mutualist Journal Club is a forum in which members inform each other about publications of interest to mutualists and sympathizers. The journal club is meant to allow members to stay informed about news relevant to mutualism without needing to scour every publication in existence.

The idea is to get a division of labor going, with volunteers regularly monitoring selected publications from a journal listing and then informing everybody else through the blog. It's a great idea, because there's such a huge amount of information out there that it's impossible for any individual to keep tabs on it all. It usually takes me a couple of weeks just to work through all the links in my sidebar; and I don't have time to keep track of a lot of other publications that I'd like to if I had infinite time.

If you're interested in contributing, you should go over there and check it out.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Help Out Fred Woodworth

Many people are especially mindful today of things in life that we have cause to be thankful for. Such gratitude may take the form, among other things, of good will toward those who aren't quite so fortunate.

Fred Woodworth, publisher of The Match! in Tucson, Arizona, has fallen on hard financial times because of health problems.

Fred's periodical has been an anarchist institution for over 35 years. The last I heard, it has about two thousand readers. I suspect most of them, as I do, get a pleasant surprise every time they get that distinctive big envelope in the mail. The Match! is printed without computers, with loving care, and chock full of interesting prints. The layout and typography on every page display Fred's exacting standards of craftsmanship. Every issue contains Fred's individualist anarchist commentary, and the most amazing letters section you've ever seen. And although Fred has managed to run The Match! on whatever contributions his readers have seen fit to send in, it's cover price is listed as free.

For over 35 years, Fred has avoided anarchist fads of all kinds, and never once compromised his plumbline of "ethical anarchism" (what some might call treating the means as the end in progress) for the sake of short-term expediency.

Besides this ruat coelum stand on matters of principle, he has also been a tireless advocate for the underdog, and a voice for those who get kicked around the most.

If you have anything to spare (preferably cash, since Fred doesn't do banks), you can send it to

The Match!
P.O. Box 3012
Tucson, AZ 85702

And while you're at it, do yourself a favor: kick in something for a few back issues of The Match!, and find out why it's had so many loyal readers for so long.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Decoupling Energy Consumption from Living Standards

Cranio-rectally impacted politician Charles Grassley was recently quoted as saying:

You know, what--what makes our economy grow is energy. And, and Americans are used to going to the gas tank, and when they put that hose in their, uh, tank, and when I do it, I wanna get gas out of it. And when I turn the light switch on, I want the lights to go on, and I don't want somebody to tell me I gotta change my way of living to satisfy them. Because this is America, and this is something we've worked our way into, and the American people are entitled to it, and if we're going improve our standard of living, you have to consume more energy.

Grassley is just one of many idiots who see the American "national interest" as requiring government action to secure "safe, reliable, and abundant" energy supplies for the economy.

Didn't conservatives use to condemn "feelings of entitlement" to get stuff without, you know, paying for it?

At the other end of the spectrum, people like George Monbiot work on the assumptions that 1) reduced energy consumption will mean reduced living standards; and 2) reduced energy consumption must be imposed by the state. Both sides ignore the possibility that there are more and less energy-intensive ways of producing the same consumption goods, and that the market price of energy might affect which is chosen.
At Catallarchy, Randall McElroy posts an excellent quote from Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist that calls these mirror-image assumptions into question:

… Over the same period Denmark actually went even further and “delinked” the connection between a higher GDP and higher energy consumption: in total Denmark used less energy in 1989 than in 1970 despite the DGP [sic] growing by 48 percent during that time.

Of course, I've expressed more than a little skepticism about how valid a measure GDP is of living standards. But I seriously doubt that the real standard of living has been hurt by Denmark's reduced energy consumption.

In any case, as I've argued before, the one thing needful to encourage energy conservation is for all the costs of energy production to be internalized by the consumer. Artificially cheap inputs are consumed in excessive amounts, because the distorted price signal gives the consumer inaccurate data about the real cost of producing what he consumes. High energy prices that fully reflect all the costs of providing energy will lead to less energy-intensive forms of production.

Right now, in the American economy, subsidized consumption of energy and transportation factors means that it's artificially cheap to buy stuff produced by a big factory at the other end of the country (or in China), rather than by a small factory in the county where you live. And subsidies to sprawl mean that for each of us, there are two separate cities--a daytime city where we work and shop, and a nighttime city where we sleep--each with its own electrical power system, and with expensive freeways running between them. Simply eliminating such massive, subsidized waste would likely reduce energy consumption to a fraction of what it currently is. And that's not even counting all sorts of other stuff, like passive solar building design, or on-site processing of farm waste into biomass fuel at the point of consumption.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

General Idea of the Revolution in the 21st Century

Patri Friedman at Catallarchy blog raises some interesting questions on the ethical dilemma involved in libertarians accepting money from the government.

Due to my son’s 3 month premature arrival, I recently applied for Social Security, which may give me some cash because of his long hospital stay.

As I commented there (without properly crediting Proudhon for the idea):

Here’s the way I look at it, Patri: to the extent that government engages in activities that would be legitimate if carried out through voluntary association and mutual aid, it is crowding out the alternatives. And its taxing system reduces your purchasing power for such voluntary alternatives. So long as a major part of the necessary activities of society are carried out through the state, there’s no shame in making use of them; all the while, of course, we try to destatize them as much as possible, shift their funding to a voluntary cost basis, and devolve them into the social body. Since the state preempts channels of voluntary cooperation, our strategy should be to seize the state’s functions and change their character, not to penalize ourselves by paying for them twice.

Green Machine

Remember when Newt Gingrich wanted to give every inner city kid a laptop? Well, we're a lot closer to that happening (except for the Newt part, that is).

I'm sure lots of people have since seen stories about the "green machine," but Adam was the first to draw my attention to it at Mutualist Journal Club (see note). Nicholas Negroponte of MIT recently displayed a prototype of a cheap (production cost $110) laptop with very low power consumption and backup power from a hand-cranked generator. It's also open source, using a Linux operating system. Negroponte plans to have millions of them in production in the near future, with hundreds of millions eventually being distributed--especially to children in Third World countries.

This strikes me as an excellent example of the kind of empowering technology that mutualists favor.

And to answer the question that most of you are probably asking, yes, he's the brother of that Negroponte. If only by promoting the diffusion of open source software in the Third World, Nicholas is directly at odds with the very un-market and un-democratic vision of so-called "market democracy" to which his brother has dedicated his life. So in the big karmic bank account, the Negroponte family may actually come out slightly ahead.

I wonder--did Hitler have a brother?

Note--You'll probably be seeing more here about the Mutualist Journal Club in the next few days.

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Monday, November 21, 2005

Making Ourselves Ungovernable: Networked Activism and Decentralized Resistance

An excellent post by John Mendel at Land&Liberty on the potential for networked activism. He quotes a 1996 Rand study by John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt on the subject. The same principal authors did another study for Rand in 1998, The Zapatists "Social Netwar" in Mexico, MR-994-A (1998), which expressed some alarm over the prospects of such decentralized resistance techniques, in terms reminiscent of Samuel Huntington's panic over the "crisis of governability" in the 1970s.

Here's what I wrote about the Fonfeldt/Arquilla assessment in an earlier blog post, "Fighting the Domestic Enemy: You"

Even before the post-Seattle movement caused such panic, RAND analysts were expressing grave concern over the possibilities of decentralized "netwar" techniques for undermining elite control. David Ronfeldt saw ominous signs of such a broader movement in the global political support network for the Zapatistas. Loose, ad hoc coalitions of affinity groups, organizing through the Internet, could throw together large demonstrations at short notice, and "swarm" the government and mainstream media with phone calls, letters, and emails far beyond their capacity to absorb.... These were, in fact, the very methods later used at Seattle and afterward. Decentralized "netwar," the stuff of elite nightmares, was Huntington's "crisis of governability" on steroids.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

Cooperative Pooling of Capital

Excellent article by Kevin Potvin of The Republic, "Vancouvers opinionated newspaper."

It’s accepted as axiomatic these days that small retail businesses will forever struggle to stay afloat. Mine, a specialty magazine and book store called Magpie Magazine Gallery in Vancouver’s funky Commercial Drive district, is twelve years old and still I feel like a short trip out of town, and out of cell phone range, could end with me finding the sheriff’s note posted to my front door.

And yet, my small independent store in this lower-rent street generates as much revenue per square foot as is achieved in Canada’s best-performing mall, the Pacific Centre, in downtown Vancouver. All my business neighbours feel as provisional as I do, but taken together, our roughly 12-block strip with about the same amount of total floor space as an average WalMart, generates more revenue, raises more gross profit, achieves a better net profit on revenue, employs way more people, provides a much wider range of goods and services, and contributes much more to the civic common good than that average Walmart.

So why is WalMart the most valuable company in the world while the stores of Commercial Drive, if put on the market all together today, would fetch in total a tiny fraction of what each WalMart store is worth? And why are WalMart owners sitting so pretty in the top ten of the world’s most wealthy, while I and a lot of my business neighbours eye the official poverty line with daily wariness?

I argue that it’s because the equity in small neighbourhood businesses is hidden and locked away, denying small business owners the benefits of access to investment and working capital so critical to the prosperity and success of large companies.

Potvin's proposal:

My solution is to entice a large enough group of businesses in some commercial district to set up a cooperative company that creates a subsidiary investment holding company that engages in stock swaps with each of the participating small businesses such that the holding company comes to own 49% of each small business while the small business owners each come to own some equitable part of the overall holding company. Neither the investment holding company nor the coop that controls it would ever gain controlling interest in any one of the small businesses, but the investment company itself would be one with considerable clout if it came to represent 49% of the interests of an entire district like Commercial Drive....

The holding company could additionally provide benefits to its owners by taking advantage of the economies of scale it could achieve on purchases of business supplies and services like insurance, courier costs, accounting contracts and more.
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Friday, November 18, 2005

Sam Smith on Community Policing

From the Great American Political Repair Manual, quoted in Progressive Review:

What law enforcement tool does every shopping mall and big office building have -- but not most neighborhoods? Their own police force. It is hard to imagine how we can restore order to our communities without giving them some role in creating and maintaining this order. Think, for example, about what typically happens when a kid first gets into trouble -- minor shoplifting, vandalism, a fight. The police are called to the scene. And what do the police do? They remove the young person from the very community against which the crime has been committed.

The implicit message is that your sin is against the city or the country or the state, not against your neighbors or your community. Thus, from the very start we teach the wrong lesson. Imagine instead that the community had its own constables -- with police training and powers --but who lived in the community, were known in the community and helped the community maintain its own order. In minor non-violent offenses, the first person on the scene would be the constable, who could quickly bring the offender before a community judicial board instead of waiting months for the matter to wend its way through the normal judicial labyrinth. If found guilty, the offender would have to provide restitution or perform community service.

This is not day-dreaming. The Spring 1994 issue of Policy Review described the system of elected constables in Houston, TX. One of these constables was Victor Trevino, who managed -- with the help of over 200 volunteer deputies (fully trained and with arrest powers) -- to cut the crime rate 10%, arrest nearly 2,000 wanted parole violators, slash the school truancy rate in half and bring back Little League after a 25-year absence. Trevino, the first latino immigrant elected in Harris County, worked in an inner city community of 150,000 people. All his volunteers were fully trained and had the arrest powers of regular officers.

Neither is the notion of community-based restorative justice untested. Writing in The Progressive Review, David Spero described how western New York's Genesee County found itself with overflowing jail cells. It turned to community service sentences and to recruiting non-profits, schools, churches and road crews to assign hard work in lieu of jail time. As Spero noted, for the criminals working with such institutions it "was often their first positive contact with anyone in authority."

Then the county developed a system of victim support, including restitution from offenders. A felon diversion program allowed screened offenders a chance to put their lives together while their case was put on hold. Only 5% of those in the program turned out to be repeat offenders. Spero described one case: An 18-year-old sniper on LSD seriously wounded two passers-by. He went through diversion for 18 months, including victim-offender conciliation. This conciliation helps victims heal and forces offenders to confront the pain they have caused. The young sniper finally received a short jail sentence plus community service and now works, pays taxes, and raises a family in Genesee County.

Communities can get involved in other ways, as in the a victim-offender mediation program of LA's Centinela Valley. Director Steve Goldsmith told Spero how is works: First we get the victim to agree to mediation, then the young offenders and their parents. We hold the sessions at a place convenient to the victim, with two volunteer mediators who have gone through 40 hours of free training. The mediators let the victim and offender work out the solution. The important thing is the kids have to hear the consequences of their actions on others. Such programs take a lot of effort. There are about 200 volunteer sponsors and victim advocates in the Genesee program and more than a 100 community agencies working with offenders. Yet there is no substitute for organic social order. We can't just call the cops and think everything will be taken care of.

Real Privatization in Bolivia

Jean Friedsky at NarcoNews:

On a grassy hillside of the Bolivian highlands, on a sunny day in June of this year, hundreds of peasant farmers celebrated two years of liberation. A bullfight, dancing, and food for all. Close, but just out of sight, sat the solitary ruins of the ex-hacienda of Collana — “a sign,” according to the settlement’s own account of their anniversary, “that, here, not even a trace of a patrón (landowner) remains.”

The occupation two years ago of the large private estate, despite many obstacles the participants have faced, is in many ways a success story for the young but growing movement of landless peasants in Bolivia. Families who until 2003 had essentially been indentured servants in Bolivia’s near-feudal countryside are living for the first time on their own terms. “With or without papers, the land was our grandparents’ and now it is ours,” stated Collana leader Dionisio Mamani in a recent article....

The national, 50,000-member-strong Landless Movement (Movimiento Sin Tierra, MST) has led the fight to equalize land ownership in a country where 90 percent of the population owns 7 percent of the cultivatable land, where campesinos (peasant farmers) primarily work as peons for large estates or have been forced to leave the countryside altogether....

Of one estate, in Los Yuquises, Friedsky writes:

The disputed land is on an estate of more than 200,000 acres owned by a well-known businessman with old political links. According to the landless campesinos in Yuquises, estates of this size are common in the region, the majority of the plots having been political gifts to supporters under the right-wing governments of the 1980s and 1990s [emphasis mine].

Of course, only a few of the occupations are comparatively successful. In many cases, local landless movement organizers are assassinated by death squads in the hire of the landed oligarchy. In others, the military evicts occupying peasants.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

William F. Buckley: Closet Georgist?

Yet another potential chapter in a book on Georgism's influence on the libertarian movement, if such a book should ever be written. Via Bill Grennon. William F. Buckley, whose early intellectual development was influenced so strongly by Albert Nock and Frank Chodorov, a few years back acknowleged his Georgist ideas in a Brian Lamb interview on CSPAN Book Notes (April 2-3, 2000).

CALLER: Mr. Buckley, it's a pleasure to talk to you.

William F. Buckley, Jr.(WFB): Thank You.

CALLER: I've heard you describe yourself as a Georgist, a follower of Henry George, but I haven't heard much in having you promote land value taxation and his theories, and I'm wondering why that is the case.

W.F.B.: It's mostly because I'm beaten down by my right-wing theorists and intellectual friends. They always find something wrong with the Single-Tax idea. What I'm talking about Mr. Lamb is Henry George who said there is infinite capacity to increase capital and to increase labor, but none to increase land, and since wealth is a function of how they play against each other, land should be thought of as common property. The effect of this would be that if you have a parking lot and the Empire State Building next to it, the tax on the parking lot should be the same as the tax on the Empire State Building, because you shouldn't encourage land speculation.

Anyway I've run into tons of situations were I think the Single-Tax theory would be applicable. We should remember also this about Henry George, he was sort of co-opted by the socialists in the 20s and the 30s, but he was not one at all. Alfred J. Nock's book on him makes that plain. Plus, also, he believes in only that tax. He believes in zero income tax.

You look bored (addressing Brian Lamb)!

B.L.: No, no. As a matter of fact I was going to ask you about this little book ("Lexicon, A Cornucopia of Wonderful Words for the Inquisitive Word Lover"). I'm fascinated by it. I'm going to see if you can pronounce the word, the-fear-of-having-peanut-butter-stuck-to-your-roof-of-your-mouth, This little book starts off and the fellow's name, is it Jesse Sheidlower?...

W.F.B.: I think so.

B.L.: S-H-E-I-D-L-O-W-E-R? You've never read it (the Introduction to "The Lexicon").

W.F.B.: No. I never have.

B.L.: (Quoting the book) "The first time I met William F. Buckley, we were both members of a televised panel discussing word. The moderator introduced me with a pop-quiz to test my credentials asked me to define the word..." Is it USUFRUCT?

W.F.B.: Usufruct, yeah.

B.L. (Quoting the book) "I felt smug as I recite the right to enjoy another's property as long as you don't damage it. Then Mr. Buckley leaned into his microphone and quoted an entire paragraph on usufruct from the political economist, Henry George.

W.F.B.: Oh for heaven's sake!

B.L.: And this little book has..

W.F.B.: The land belongs to those in usufruct.

Also via Grennon, an excerpt from Home, Dear Home by Wm F. Buckley:

Henry George, the eminent social philosopher of a century ago, turned the attention of planners and economists, however briefly, to the indefeasible factor of land scarcity. Capital and labor can increase; land cannot.

Accordingly, George was the apostle of the single tax. It aimed most directly at land speculators. His insights would focus now on the limitations on the use of land imposed by zoning. If John Jones wants an acre protecting his house, he is laying claim to something that cannot expand in size. Since land, in George's analysis, is forever limited, it must be thought of and treated as common property. And therefore the rental value of one acre should constitute a tax (the single tax) on the person who sequesters it for himself.

"We Don't Need Them"

By Joe Carpenter. Via Richard K. Moore, Cyberjournal.

I’ve never understood the idea of speaking truth to power. The truth, surely, is that in almost all countries of the world, political and economic systems are designed to benefit only the rich and powerful, at the expense of those with less money and power. This is how the world works, and I see no reason to think that the powerful don’t already understand that. After all, they designed it; they maintain it.

They steal our money, sacrifice our children in their wars, send the poorest and most victimized among us off to jail for petty mistakes, and crush those of us who might present a real threat to the arrangement. They know we don’t like it. They don’t care. They don’t need to care. They also control most of our avenues of dissent. It’s a very simple, very elegant design.

Meanwhile, we get angry and toddle off to tell the truth to the powerful. We have been telling them the truth for centuries. We travel to their great palaces by the hundreds of thousands, to express our anger and despair....

Well, the government and their pals are not going to stop using and abusing us. They’re not going to stop preying on us. They cannot stop! Republican or Democrat, they are rich and powerful precisely because they prey on us. They are rich because they rob us. They’re robbing us right this minute. They are powerful because they dominate every aspect of our lives, because they’ve taken control of all the major social, political, economic, and communication systems in the world. These systems were designed to increase their wealth and power by taking both from all the rest of us.

In other words, with all due respect to Coleman McCarthy, we can teach classes in "peace studies" and assign readings from Martin Luther King and "the Rabbi Christ" until we're blue in the face, and it won't do any good. Coercion and violence are how the rich and powerful got that way, and (an occasional Tolstoy aside) the wolves aren't about to be "ethically educated" into giving up their taste for mutton.

But, we are not children, and they are not our parents. We’re not little people and they are not big people. We’re not insignificant and they are not significant. In fact, we do not need them.

....We don’t need to rush out to tell the few that they are abusing the many. They already know that. We need to stand upright and walk out to tell the many that they are being slowly devoured by the few, for -- incredibly, they do not know. We need to look to our next door neighbors, and to their next door neighbors and to the folks all along the block. We need to tell the truth to each other -- for we are the answer....

But the rich and powerful have convinced us that we cannot -- we must not -- communicate with the people we can see and hear and touch, right here, right now. They have convinced us that we need to travel to some government office to persuade elected officials and bureaucrats to change our world for us. The government and media drone on, endlessly, hypnotically, and convince us that if we just elect the right leaders, they’ll talk to our next door neighbor for us....

Want to change the world? Tell the truth to the plumber. Begin with the lady who hands you the stamps at the post office. Talk with the checkout people at the grocery store. Chat with the waiter at your favorite café. Speak with the cops who sit down at the next table. Gab for a few minutes with the guy who changes your oil or with the elementary school teacher with whom you’ve been discussing your child’s future. Lean out of your window while stopped at the light and tell the truck driver some truth he’s certain to recall and ponder.

Feel the need to march? Gather a bunch of folks and wander about your neighborhoods with signs and leaflets. When people walk by, stop and gab with them. When that huge guy with the Hemi-powered Ram pulls alongside and tells you to “love it or leave it,” ask him to stay and talk. Smile, offer your hand, make nice. He’s one of us. He’d make a wonderful ally. When a carload of high school jocks slows to offer some single-fingered communication, hand them some cold colas and tell them about the probability of a draft. They’re our people, too. Convince yourself that this is so, then convince them.

....Forget about telling the government, forget about the hot shots.

To the extent that we believe we need them, exactly to that extent will we continue our dependence upon ruthless, murderous plunderers, people entirely opposed to our needs and deepest longings. As long as we believe we need them, exactly that long will we live life on our knees, begging -- as Mickey Z. says -- for crumbs from their table.

The depth of our apparent need is the measure of their height above us. The nightmare of our poverty is our dream that they have a right to take our money. The illusion of our impotence is the chimera of their monstrous strength. We shall be slaves as long as we’re convinced that we have masters, and not one moment longer.

....Whatever we need, we can get it ourselves. Whatever we want to stop -- we can stop it ourselves. Whatever must be done, we can do it ourselves. We do not need them; we need each other.

Brad Spangler recently stressed the importance of demystifying the state, and its authority and symbolism, as an effort parallel to building counter-institutions:

If your goal is a world where:

1. Bandits, such as the State, are successfully suppressed by institutions of private law, and…

2. Excuses for such bandits (political ideology) are dismissed by almost all as the nonsensical superstitions they are…

Then two things are required to reach that goal:

1. Counter-establishment economic activity (counter-economics — a.k.a. “the black market”) is the only tool that can eventually build institutions of security and law independent of state control. In the mean time, it makes peoples lives better for themselves here and now.

2. State-glorifying political superstition can only be combated with the truth — the whole truth, delivered unflinchingly, relentlessly and unyieldingly; rather than watered down rhetorical tripe designed to get people elected by not challenging existing superstitions to uncomfortably.

Because counter-economics focuses on making peoples lives better here and now, it’s something useful that people can incorporate into their lives, yet it lays the groundwork for eventually laying the state low. In complementary fashion, fighting political superstition provides the environment, in terms of mass psychology, for counter-economics to
germinate and bloom.

Addendum. Via Lenin's Tomb. Col. Chabert writes:

Our beliefs in equality, etc.. are not shared by them; they are the ruling class, and keenly aware of it. They are, I suspect, exactly like Jane Austen's gentry - sensitive to their standing among their own, but without guilt or compassion at all for the vast majority of the planet's population; everyone not at their level is weather, workhouse, rubbish and landscape. Too often we tend to imagine them, to portray them in our speculations, as psychologically similar to ourselves, as belonging to our culture. They aren't - this is evident - and they don't.

This is of course perfectly normal for ruling classes. It would be very unusual - unprecedented -if the few thousands rulers of our world were not really genuinely as indifferent to the views and pains and needs of most people as we are to those of cockroaches.

GDP Again

At the Globalization Institute blog, Anthony Batty makes a point quite similar to mine in my earlier critique of GDP:

If we were to compare the USA and Pakistan for example, looking at GDP per Capita figures we would see workers in the USA earn around 16.5 times as much - $33,293 compared to $2,008. However this picture is not entirely accurate. In Pakistan the informal sector of the economy is much larger. If we were to compare like with like we could look at GDP per worker, this gives us figures of $64,537 compared to $7,023. Workers in the USA are still far more productive (over nine times) but the difference is greatly reduced.

It seems to me that this criticism of comparisons between Pakistan and the U.S. also applies to comparisons between Pakistan before and Pakistan after. If the informal sector has been to some extent monetized and incorporated into the formal money economy under the influence of globalization, then earlier measures of GDP understate the informal economy; and later measures confuse the monetization of activities previously in the household and barter economies with an increase in economic activity as such. So the exploding GDP figures that neoliberals like to point to as evidence of the prosperity that comes from globalization may be misleading. Some or most of that increase in nominal GDP may reflect, not an increase in absolute levels of economic activity, but a shifting of some preexisting economic activity from forms directly under the control of the laboring classes and their communities, to forms controlled by large corporations.


Edward Kellogg

At Libertarian Labyrinth, Shawn Wilbur has a detailed post on the intellectual career of Edward Kellogg, who was a major influence on the banking theories of William Greene. There is some discussion of Kellogg's influence on Greene in Chapter 5 of James Martin's Men Against the State.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Good Articles on Cooperative Economics

At Grassroots Economic Organizing:

Ethan Miller. "Solidarity Economics: Strategies for Building New Economies from the Bottom-Up and the Inside-Out"

Betsy Bowman & Bob Stone. "Cooperativization as Alternative to Globalizing Capitalism"

Socialism for the Rich, Redux

At Porcupine Blog, Larry Gambone describes another example--in this case, the choice of a light rail system linking Vancouver to nearby towns--of how deep government's pockets can be under the rule of "frugal" neoliberal politicians, when the loot's intended for politically connected plutes.

Even back in the '70s, when the neoliberals were so exercised over fiscal and accumulation crises, they were quite up-front about the fact that fiscal austerity applied only to the consumption needs of ordinary people. Their agenda called for even more state spending when it came to subsidizing accumulation.

What they really care about is not so much shifting resources away from the state, as shifting them from consumption to accumulation. And even when they claim to seek a shift from nominally "public" to nominally "private" spending, all they really mean is shifting some spending from the state budget as such to the quasi-private corporations that interlock with the state and control it.

The conventional wisdom, which he shares, was stated quite succinctly by John Ralston Saul in a recent Mother Jones interview:

The current wave of globalization has its origins in the economic crises of 1970s, when the industrialized economies, after three decades of steady growth, began to flounder, beset by persistently high unemployment and inflation, and governments began casting around for an alternative to the Keynesian orthodoxy that had dominated economic thinking since the end of the Second World War. They found that alternative in a (hitherto fringe) school of thought associated with Friedrich von Hayek and, later, Milton Friedman, one premised on the notion that in matters of economic management government was the problem, not part of the solution, as Keynesianism had it.

Central to the new thinking—taken up famously and with particular fervor in the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan—was the the idea that market forces work best and to everyone's benefit when government stands aside.

In fact, as Nicholas Hildyard argued in "The Myth of the Minimalist State," (and as I argued in "The Neoliberal Myth of Small Government"), the neoliberal revolution resulted in little if any overall reduction in the size of government. Neoliberalism is just another form of state capitalist intervention, with accumulation of "private" capital at taxpayer expense. For the elites who carried out the neoliberal revolution, Ron and Maggie were just useful idiots, a way of packaging their statist agenda in the wholesome imagery of nineteenth century liberalism. Just how small is neoliberal government, in practice? As I wrote in "The Neoliberal Myth of Small Government,"

"Deregulation" can more accurately be called "reregulation": a shift of the regulatory state's activities in a more corporate-friendly direction. "Privatization" of government activity... leaves a larger share of functions under nominally private direction, but operating within a web of protections, advantages and subsidies largely defined by the state. Spending cuts on social services have been more than offset by other forms of spending that subsidize the operating costs of corporate enterprise. Subsidies from multilateral development banks, especially, which are necessary to render much overseas capital investment profitable, are on the rise. Neoliberal trade agreements include a legal framework (e.g., so-called "intellectual property" [sic] rights) designed mainly to protect big business against the market. Many such agreements require the creation of international bodies, de facto supra-national governments, to overrule the policies of signatory states.

By the way, if you haven't read the Hildyard article, do yourself a favor and click on it now.

A Swell Argument for Gun Control

From the folks at CorpWatch:

Every 15 minutes, someone in Brazil dies from a gunshot wound, according to the United Nations. Yet the world’s first ever referendum on banning civilian guns in this country failed to pass this past Sunday.

Instead the proposed ban went down to a resounding defeat with almost two thirds of the population voting no to the question: "Should the sale of all types of guns and ammunition be banned nationwide for everyone except the police and the military?"

Earlier this year, support for the ban had been running as high as 80 percent, but in recent weeks, the pro-gun lobby -- arms makers and various activist groups -- played on fears about the crime rate and the public swung dramatically against the proposal.

But maybe the public's fears are rational--especially given the fact that not all criminals are civilians.

"It is not a coincidence that the victims of violence are the same victims as always in Brazil: the poor black and segregated. And mostly under the age of 25," says Luis Mir, a Sao Paulo emergency room surgeon and author of "Civil War- State and Trauma."

The battleground of this hidden war is the slums, or favelas, of the bigger Brazilian cities. "The favelas are concentration camps," says Mir. "There is no health, no education, and they are encircled militarily. If you leave and you are a suspect you are shot."

Well! That certainly makes me want to give the police and the military a monopoly on the means of armed force. If you can't trust uniformed thugs like these to do right by a totally disarmed population, who can you trust?

Seriously, though, it sounds like an awful lot of those people who die of gunshot wounds were murdered by the police and the military--the very groups these friggin' goo-goos want to give a monopoly on firearms. And that's not even getting into the question of how many others died of gunshots at the hands of their intended victims.

I've never figured out the liberal busybodies who complain that "guns are only designed for one purpose--to kill people!" ...and then insist that only the police and military should have them. By that line of reasoning, it's perfectly OK for firearms to be used to kill people; but the only people qualified to decide who needs to be killed are the police and military. Apparently, a uniform and government credentials elevate you to a different order of humanity. Personally, I think some of these uniformed demigods are the very people we need guns to defend ourselves against.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Vulgar Libertarianism Watch, Part XIII

Jeffrey Tucker's post at Mises Blog includes this howler:

In 1900, 40% of Americans worked on farms. Today it is only 3%. This is progress. It really is. What’s more, it represents the results of choice. No one was ever forced to leave a farm. They choose to leave to undertake more socially useful and economically profitable endeavors.

Nobody was ever forced to leave a farm!!?? That sounds an awful lot like the vulgar libertarian argument that all those happy darkies choose to work in sweatshops because they're the "best available alternative." In the comment thread, P. M. Lawrence responds, in part:

(2) It is not true that wherever and whenever people were given the choice they chose urban life over agriculture. The Highland Clearances and Irish Evictions forced people into the cities. One natural experiment - Leverburgh - showed that when crofting remained an alternative, Scottish islanders stayed away from the factory in droves. Also, historically, cities like Antioch were stocked by compulsorily settling local peasantry as well as Macedonian veterans....

(4) Most rural people, if not oppressed by rents and/or taxes, were effectively free peasant proprietors; the comparison should be with those who stayed, not with those like the ploughboy who left. Even those were often demographically different from not having inherited yet, rather than part of a landless underclass (both cases existed). From what little we can reliably infer, unless someone is carrying an extra burden or being forced onto marginal land that yields with work, subsistence farming is a comfortable 20 hours per week....

Tucker, in response, conceded that some examples of forced industrialization existed--the best-known among them being Stalinist Russia and the American south after the Civil War. So, apparently, some people really were forced to, you know, leave the farm. Another example of forced industrialization that readers of E.P. Thompson, J.L. and Barbara Hammond, and the like might be familiar with is the Industrial Revolution in Britain. You know, those little matters of the enclosures, the laws of settlement, the combination laws, an internal passport system coupled with slave auctions by the parish Poor Law overseers, and so forth; but other than that, everything was completely voluntary and non-coercive!

So Tucker's fallback position, it seems, is nobody was ever forced to leave a farm, unless they were forced to leave a farm.

Ivan Janssens' Critique

A thoughtful criticism of some of my ideas in Austrian and Marxist Theories of Monopoly Capital: A Mutualist Synthesis, at Ivan Janssens' blog.

Although the author does not use these words (preferring the term mutualist) I think his idea’s can best be described as “free market communism” (or maybe “free market marxism” is an even better term). A system where through the workings of a genuinly free market the producers/laborers get the full value of their labour.

Actually, although I borrow a lot of ideas from both the Marxists and the Austro-libertarians, the framework I use is neither; it's the "petty bourgeois socialism" of Proudhon, and of the American individualist anarchist tradition from Warren to Spooner and Tucker. Certainly the Marxists have coopted the classical socialist tradition, to the extent that any rhetoric about the exploitation of labor or the exploitative nature of capitalism causes most people to think instinctively of Marx. But Marx didn't invent that tradition. As Benjamin Tucker argued in "State Socialism versus Anarchism," the central doctrines of socialism were arrived at independently by Proudhon, Warren, and Marx:

From Smith’s principle that labor is the true measure of price... these three men made the following deductions: that the natural wage of labor is its product; that this wage, or product, is the only just source of income (leaving out, of course, gift, inheritance, etc.); that all who derive income from any other source abstract it directly or indirectly from the natural and just wage of labor; that this abstracting process generally takes one of three forms, – interest, rent, and profit; that these three constitute the trinity of usury, and are simply different methods of levying tribute for the use of capital; that, capital being simply stored-up labor which has already received its pay in full, its use ought to be gratuitous, on the principle that labor is the only basis of price; that the lender of capital is entitled to its return intact, and nothing more; that the only reason why the banker, the stockholder, the landlord, the manufacturer, and the merchant are able to exact usury from labor lies in the fact that they are backed by legal privilege, or monopoly; and that the only way to secure labor the enjoyment of its entire product, or natural wage, is to strike down monopoly.

Marx saw state control of the economy as the way to "put labor in possession of its own," whereas in the view of Proudhon and Warren the best way to secure to labor its full product was to pursue the laissez-faire doctrines of the Manchesterians to their logical conclusion.

Apart from the lack of a blueprint i think it’s unfortunate that the author does not offer an answer to to Stiglitz-critique (in Wither Socialism ?) on "market socialism".

I must confess that I lack the mathematical apparatus for reading most 20th century academic economics; that's one reason why my treatment of the neoclassical tradition in Mutualist Political Economy stopped with Marshall, and I focused on the Austrian tradition in my attacks on the subjectivists. But from the reviews of Stiglitz that Janssens links to, I gather that his critique of market socialism applies mainly to the Lange-Taylor model, and to the Yugoslav economic experiments, and focuses on the need for state intervention to correct inefficiencies resulting from imperfect information and imperfect competition. I tend to take a Rothbardian view on such questions: so long as there are no state barriers to market entry, the market will produce an optimal level of competition; and given a set of costs for acquiring information, the distribution of information in the market will reflect the market actors' own judgments as to what the information is worth. In other words, let the market decide what levels of competition and information are appropriate. I also tend to view the state as the main creator of externalities, and the main barrier to proper cost internalization and market efficiency.

And it strikes me that the problems of imperfect information and imperfect competition would be reduced considerably in a decentralized economy of small firms producing for local markets. The models of "market socialism" Stiglitz refers to tended to accept many of the assumptions of "orthodox economics" on the efficiencies scale, and to be based on much larger sized enterprises than would exist in the kind of market economy envisioned by the individualist anarchists. The Eastern European model of market socialism also had a considerable role for the state in allocating financial resources between enterprises--a circumstance quite different from a credit system based on mutual banks and voluntary pooling of resources through bottom-up association.

Neither does the author adress the possibility that with the advent of globalization and the deployment of information technology, capitalism is entering a new phase in it’s existence. By breaking down the power of both private monopolies and the modern capitalist welfare state these forces can bring us closer to a genuine free market capitalism (of which the author contends that it never existed, and probably never will).

I don't deny that possibility. In fact, the pamphlet that Janssens links to has a section devoted to the unsustainability of state capitalist intervention in the market, and the likely breakdown of the state capitalist system from assorted crises of inputs. But to the extent that technological change and other developments are undermining the statist basis of privilege, they are necessarily undermining the capitalist nature of the system. My claim that "free market capitalism... never existed" is a matter of definition: the present system is "capitalist" precisely to the extent that it deviates from a free market. Like most of the classical individualist anarchists, I consider capitalism by definition to be a statist class sytem, in which the state intervenes in the market on behalf of capitalists. A free market, in contrast, is the opposite of capitalism: a system in which the state no longer intervenes to guarantee monopoly returns to land and capital, and as a result labor receives its full product as a wage.

[The twentieth century was] different because in a large part of the world we found the holy grail of economic growth.... And it’s in large part thanks to the big capitalists and thanks to democracy that at least many in the West and more in more in Eastern-Asia are living a live in luxury. Ask any Chinese if he or she wants to work for a foreign multinational company or in the domestic sector, and the large majority of them will choose the former. (The point being of course that many of them don’t have that choice yet: it’s precisely thanks to multinational companies that they at least have the possibility to get outside of the fence.)

As P.M. Lawrence, a frequent commenter on this blog, has argued, it's unfair to compare the standard of living of employees of the large corporate sector to either the existing subsistence sector in the Third World, or to the state of affairs before corporate globalization. Such a comparision neglects 1) the extent to which the present corporate system crowded out alternative paths to economic growth and innovation, along both more genuinely free market and more cooperativist lines; and 2) the extent of survivor bias. Simply saying that Third World workers prefer corporate employment to "the alternative" also neglects the issue of involvement by those very same multinational companies in limiting what range of alternatives was available in the first place (as I pointed out in the inaugural post of this blog, "Vulgar Libertarianism Watch"). In many places, the transnational corporations are in active collusion with the governments that build the fence: they're engaged in providing crutches to the people whose legs they broke.

From Pollard's Mouth to God's Ears

As regular readers of these pages know, I am predicting that, at some point in this century, the large political and economic structures (state governments and multi-national corporations) that currently govern much of our lives will collapse, probably due to a combination of total dysfunction in the new wired world and economic bankruptcy. This will leave a vacuum that will be filled, I predict, by community-based organizations.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Mutualist Library

As some readers probably already know, I've got another long-term project in the works: the mutualist library. I envisioned it as a CD-Rom reference library of the major texts of individualist anarchism, its precursors (Paine, Godwin, Hodgskin, etc.), and fellow travellers (Henry George, the panarchists, etc.). I'd also like to include as much of the late stuff as possible by members of the Tucker circle, like Yarros and Swartz. And of course, out of sheer vanity, I'll throw in a pdf of Mutualist Political Economy.

There's already so much stuff by Proudhon, Warren, Spooner, etc., that's already online, that just downloading it and reformatting it will keep me pretty busy. In the last couple of weeks, I've reformatted the online chapters (5 and 6) of Martin's Men Against the State that are up at The Memory Hole (the main work was keying in footnotes to ch. 5), and put together a pretty good pdf of Godwin's Enquiry Concerning Political Justice with a new pagination and table of contents. Just finding out what all's hidden away in the nooks and crannies of Project Gutenberg, Questia, and the Anarchist Archives could eat up a lot of time.

But as much as there already is, there's plenty of centrally important texts that don't (as far as I know) exist in digitized form. Some of the most important would be English translations of Proudhon's The Federative Principle and General Idea of the Revolution, and J.K. Ingalls' land reform stuff. And anything by Ezra Heywood. I've got an etext of the first half of Andrews' Science of Society, and jpeg images of the pages of the second half (both thanks to Joe Kelley), but no digitized version of the second half. Of course, that's just some of the biggest stuff, thrown out as an example of how big the gaps are.

So (I'm sure you saw it coming) here's the pitch. A project like this will require a distributed scanning network to fill in some of those gaps. I don't have a scanner, myself, although I'll probably be in the market for one in the next few months. In the meantime, I'm more than willing to put in the sweat equity editing the raw files from anyone else's scanning efforts. Shawn Wilbur is already doing a lot of scanning from the money writings of Greene, Kellogg, and Westrup. He's also interested in eventually getting as much as possible digitized from the entire runs of Liberty and The Word, probably the two most important periodicals to nineteenth century Boston anarchism.

I'm also curious as to just how much important material is already digitized and just sitting around on people's hard drives, but not available online. There are quite a few good scholars of the history of individualist anarchism out there, who are probably sitting on some really good stuff. If you're one of them, please, please, please--just click "attach" and "send"! Any contributions will be greatly appreciated.

Bill Kauffman on Human Resources Processing Factories (aka Publik Skools)

One of my favorite writers, Bill Kauffman, on a mandatory kindergarten proposal in New York:

The tandem of Silver and Ross propose to make all-day kindergarten mandatory for New York’s alarmingly unregulated five-year-olds. And taking a cue from the Carnegie Corporation’s Task Force on Learning in the Primary Grades, which recommended the incarceration in school of every three and four-year-old in America, Silver and Ross urged the enrollment of New York’s four-year-olds in what the speaker infelicitously terms "a regiment of educational exposure."

Well, this is awfully generous of the state, offering to take our tykes off our hands. True, the unspoken assumption behind herding tots into government factories is that, if left to the tender mercies of mom and dad, New York’s black kids will grow up to be menacing felons, and the whites will mature into slack-jawed cretins. Neither group makes very good soldiers or Microsoft employees. And if we’re going to be cynical about it and look this gift horse in the mouth, we might recall Henry Adams’s statement that "all State education is a sort of dynamo machine for polarizing the popular mind; for turning and holding its lines of force in the direction supposed to be most effective for state purposes." ...

The subordination of American life to the demands of military empire sapped the vital link between families and their neighborhood schools. Consolidation--the merging of small district academies into large schools to which rural children must travel by bus--was one of the biggest saps. The king of consolidation was James Bryant Conant, the Harvard University president who had been a major in the Army’s Chemical Warfare Service during the First World War and an administrator of the Manhattan Project during the second.

After devoting the best years of his life to devising ever more horrific methods of slaughtering people he’d never met, Dr. Conant turned his attentions upon American schoolchildren. Feasting on a fat grant from the Carnegie Corporation (whose thumb prints always seem to be at the scene of the crime), Conant recommended "the elimination of the small high school"; no school with fewer than 400 students should be allowed to exist. "Not many years ago," Conant marveled, "a considerable body of opinion in this country . . . thought that what happened to children was a matter for the parents to decide. The state should not come between a father and his son. . . . These arguments would sound archaic today." The fewer the schools and the more uniform the curriculum, as Conant understood, the more desultory parental input would be and the easier it would be to break down America’s stubborn regional differences and create a standardized Cold War kiddie.

The Conant view, if I may be permitted a slight caricature, is that the child belongs to the state, not the parent: he is a little soldier in a 13-year boot camp who will, if necessary, be bused 50 miles to gleaming, soulless, hyper-efficient super schools, where he can be programmed to be a "productive worker" who can "meet the challenges of our global responsibilities/the space race/the 21st century/the interdependent economy" or whatever will-o-the-wisp our rulers have us chasing today. The child is a cog, a drone, a spoke--all in all, he’s just another brick in the wall. He or she is everything but a son or daughter.

Here in Arkansas, our compassionate/big government conservative governor, Mike Huckabee, is a prominent advocate of doing just what Conant advocated: shutting down the small schools. Meanwhile, up here in the northwest corner of the state, the schools that get shut down in the name of "progress" are usually old neighborhood schools, and the new schools that get built (surprise, surprise, surprise!) just happen to serve real estate mogul Jim Lindsey's new subdivisions. Every one of his real estate signs should include a notice "Your taxes make my property more valuable--Thanks!"

Addendum. Kauffman's impolitic remarks on menacing felons and slack-jawed cretins reminds me of something I've observed in the past: the two groups most subject to constant surveillance and harassment by the drug war are inner city blacks and rural whites. Those are also the two demographics in our society, as it happens, that are least well socialized to have a "good attitude toward authority" and cheerfully take direction from men in suits. These two groups will have to be embraced by any coalition to break the power of the corporate state, if it ever hopes to be successful. And, again, these groups are disproportionately disinfranchised and subject to social control by the single most authoritarian force in American society over the past thirty years. As Lenin might say: comrades, this is no accident.


Arthur Silber's Back!

Well, I'll be dipped in shit! All of Arthur Silber's regular readers out there who were upset to see Light of Reason disappear should check out his new blog: Once Upon a Time.

I only just now stumbled across it thanks to Karmalized. Since his traffic meter's already up to about 3000 hits a day, I'm probably the last of his old readers to get in on the secret.

There's also a Paypal button, for those who can afford to express their appreciation for Arthur's writing in a more tangible way, and I imagine he'd be glad of the cash flow right now.

I was glad to hear, at least, that he had changed his mind and planned to keep his archives up--a real treasure. So it was really disappointing to hit that 404 page not long afterward when I clicked on the old link. If I'd known the archives were going down, I'd have worked faster to save as much as I could on my hard drive. Fortunately, though, I've got all of his major series (especially "I Accuse" and "The Roots of Horror") saved in a MS Works textfile (over 500 pages), along with a lot of other stuff through last spring. As soon as I can figure out a good document format that will leave the hyperlinks intact, I'll probably put everything online.

Nice to have some good news, for a change.

"Patriot" [sic] Act Abuses

In the past, Julian Sanchez has ridiculed neocon demands for an example of USA PATRIOT Act abuses.

[National Review Editor Rich] Lowry's demand amounts to: "Show me just one classified, top-secret abuse of power!" As such, the request is disingenuous at the very least. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act request for information on the uses of PATRIOT powers last August, and was rebuffed. "It is literally impossible," observes ACLU staff attorney Jameel Jaffer, "to know in what contexts the government has used these powers unless they tell us of their own accord, which they have so far refused to do."

Well, now Julian says maybe there is some information coming in. And it ain't pretty:

The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters -- one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people -- are extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans....

The burgeoning use of national security letters coincides with an unannounced decision to deposit all the information they yield into government data banks -- and to share those private records widely, in the federal government and beyond. In late 2003, the Bush administration reversed a long-standing policy requiring agents to destroy their files on innocent American citizens, companies and residents when investigations closed. Late last month, President Bush signed Executive Order 13388, expanding access to those files for "state, local and tribal" governments and for "appropriate private sector entities," which are not defined....

Senior FBI officials acknowledged in interviews that the proliferation of national security letters results primarily from the bureau's new authority to collect intimate facts about people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing. Criticized for failure to detect the Sept. 11 plot, the bureau now casts a much wider net, using national security letters to generate leads as well as to pursue them. Casual or unwitting contact with a suspect -- a single telephone call, for example -- may attract the attention of investigators and subject a person to scrutiny about which he never learns.

A national security letter cannot be used to authorize eavesdropping or to read the contents of e-mail. But it does permit investigators to trace revealing paths through the private affairs of a modern digital citizen. The records it yields describe where a person makes and spends money, with whom he lives and lived before, how much he gambles, what he buys online, what he pawns and borrows, where he travels, how he invests, what he searches for and reads on the Web, and who telephones or e-mails him at home and at work.

Of course, as Julian says,

Maybe that doesn't count as an "abuse," at least as far as PATRIOT apologists are concerned, in the sense that it all appears to be within the letter of the law.

Hell, it's not a bug, it's a feature!

And via Brad Spangler, a more personal example from Doug Thompson of Capitol Hill Blue: "An Enemy of the State"

According to a printout from a computer controlled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Justice, I am an enemy of the state.

The printout, shown to me recently by a friend who works for Justice, identifies me by a long, multi-digit number, lists my date of birth, place of birth, social security number and contains more than 100 pages documenting what the Bureau and the Bush Administration consider to be my threats to the security of the United States of America....

Although the file finds no criminal activity by me or members of my immediate family, it remains open because I am a “person of interest” who has “written and promoted opinions that are contrary to the government of the United States of America.”

And it will remain active because the government of the United States, under the far-reaching provisions of the USA Patriot Act, can compile and retain such information on any American citizen. That act gives the FBI the authority to collect intimate details about anyone, even those not suspected of any wrongdoing.

In other words, this coming Independence Day we libertarians need to publicly burn the Declaration of Independence and tell George III we're sorry. Because if the patriots on Lexington Green had had any idea that the people they were fighting for would one day accept a regime like this with such docility, they'd have thrown their flintlocks to the ground in disgust and headed for the nearest tavern.

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Sunday, November 13, 2005

Two Interesting Posts on Property

First, Little Iguanodon has an interesting post on usufructory property:

If you think about usufruct, it doesn't seem that bad. You live in your house, play lawn darts in the back yard, plant a little garden? You own it, and the community will support your ownership of it, either through some sort of free-market court system or a voluntary jury. The same goes for your car, your wristwatch, your iPod, your dog, your socket wrench set, your collection of small bits of string in the junk drawer.

If you rent an apartment or a basement suite, congratulations! You now own a portion of the building, and are essentially a member of a condo association or part owner of a home. If you are a landlord, you are SOL. If you're lucky, the new owners will hire you as the maintenance guy.

But how do you establish a claim? How long does it last after you wander away? What if you want to go on a six-month trip cataloguing butterflies in Brazil, and when you come back you find that some dirty hippy has moved into your house, because you weren't "using" it? This is one of the thorniest problems of usufruct, and I suspect it could only be worked out, somewhat imperfectly, by trial, error, and the creation of widely-acknowledged custom or common law.

Of course, any set of property rights rules will present similar practical difficulties. In any set of general rules, the devil is in the details. Under the Lockean system, the question arises of how much labor is necessary to appropriate a given set of natural resources. And every property system, Lockean included, entails a largely conventional set of rules for constructive abandonment. So to an extent, the differences between them are of degree rather than of kind. As "Hogeye Bill" Orton puts it [see Note], different systems of property rules differ in the "stickiness" of property: what's the threshold of abandonment?

Iguanodon continues:

Probably the easist way would be to establish community claims offices, like the offices that monitored and licensed gold panners in the 19th century. If you find a vacant house, the first thing you do is wander down to the office. Is it really vacant, or has the owner just forgotten to mow the lawn, or gone on vacation for a few months? If it is vacant, register your claim and move on in. To cement your claim, you should, as Locke urged and old American common law had it, mix a bit of your labour with the land. Fix the place up a bit. Mow the lawn. Plant some carrots or tulips. After a week or a month, the claims officer will wander by, see what you've done, and put a check mark next to your name. Home filled, usufruct-owner in place. (Anarcho-capitalists would no doubt see the claims office as a free-market, for-profit business, possibly with several competing officers, and the collectivists would much rather see a community effort to register property use/occupancy, but it amounts to the same thing in the end.)

Of related interest, Chris Dillow of Stumbling and Mumbling links to a series of posts by Chris Brooke of The Virtual Stoa, quoting at length from eighteenth century writer Thomas Rutherforth's critique of Locke in Institutes of Natural Law. Rutherforth questions, with a series of ingenious arguments, why the occupier's admixture of labor should be sufficient to remove a parcel of land from common status. According to this line of argument, labor appropriation is simply the criterion for possessory ownership of a resource whose ultimate ownership remains in common.

Of course, the Georgists and individualist anarchists, both of whom tend to agree with the latter generalization, will adamently specify that "common" ownership and "collective" ownership are two different animals. Common ownership simply means an equal right of access to land, by all individuals severally. And through the law of equal liberty, the occupier must respect some ongoing negative liberties of the excluded. A Georgist would assert a strong version of this liberty, with compensation in the form of payment of site rent to the excluded. An individualist, on the other hand, would assert only a weak version of it, with the common right extending only to a social consensus on not recognizing the right of an absentee owner to enforce property claims to a parcel of land he is not actually occupying and using. So the individualist anarchist theory of common rights to the land is much more residual than its Georgist counterpart.

Now, a Lockean might respond that there is no basis for this original claim to common ownership, since mankind collectively has never staked a property claim to the earth through its labor. My response is that this argument confuses apples and oranges, i.e., two different senses of the term "ownership." The second form of ownership, established by admixture of labor, exists only in the preexisting context of mankind's original common right of ownership, and is a secondary set of rules for regulating individual possessory claims to the common stock.

Anyway, they're both worth checking out.

Note--Most of Orton's explication of the theory of property "stickiness" is on message boards and other occasional writing with iffy links, but I've attempted to aggregate it in this section of Mutualist Political Economy.